We were unspectacularly solid last week at 10-6 overall and 9-6-1 against the spread to push us to 23 games above .500 ATS for the year — pretty good. Misfired on our Upset of the Week (thanks for nuthin, Bengals) but had four other ’dogs-with-points (Redskins, Chiefs, Bucs, Jets) to fuel the week. The tie was Oakland pushing at minus-3. We missed being 11-4 vs. the evil betting line by two total points, but the close calls swing both ways, so, no complaining. Let’s keep the big rig honkin’! [Note: Thursday-game pick was Vikings (+3) over Cowboys, 24-20].
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (7-4) AT RAVENS (6-5)
Line: BAL by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: BAL 23-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
I’ll be the doomsayer forecasting the end of the merry six-game winning streak and a punch to Miami’s playoff hopes. Somebody’s gotta do it, Dolfans. Although, if you think I’m so often wrong that my picking against the Dolphins delights you, then … you’re welcome! In either case, this is a very good Ravens defense — all-over-the-field good — confronting Miami in a very tough place to play. Even with the Dolphins’ offensive line healthier this week, Sunday will present a bigger challenge than Ryan Tannehill or Jay Ajayi have yet faced during this streak. I would also note that Joe Flacco is 4-0 vs. the Fins in his career, as Miami’s 15-13 home win over the Crows last season came with miserable Matt Schaub subbing for an injured Flacco. Side note: Mike Wallace faces Dolphins Sunday for first time since leaving Miami. I do judge the Fins a slightly better all-round team than Baltimore at the moment, but defense and the home field swing the pick Raven-ward. I will take the Dolphs with that extra half-point on the betting line, though, in what figures as a low-scoring afternoon in Crabtown.
GAME OF THE WEEK
UPSET OF THE WEEK
BILLS (6-5) AT RAIDERS (9-2)
Line: OAK by 3.
Cote’s pick: BUF 27-23.
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS.
“AAAWWWK!” booms the Upset Bird. “Game of the Waawwk! Buffalaawwk!” Oakland sails in with five consecutive W’s and is en route to finally ending its 13-season playoff drought. Buffalo has won two in a row to reanimate its hopes of ending its own NFL-worst 16-year postseason drought. Could be an epic duel between two of the league’s ballsiest coaches in Rex Ryan and Jack Del Rio. The Bills last won a game in Oakland in 1966, but the eventual end of such a thing is automatic as daybreak, right? Both of OAK’s losses have come at home, after all. Raiders will have the best defensive player on the field in Khalil Mack, but Buffs have the stronger D overall, and it is on that point that we pin our upset hunch. “Oaklaawwk is due a stumble,” agrees a nodding U-Bird. “Also, Bills offense gets a welcome and needed boost with Sammy Watkins back. Sammy Waaawwwkins!”
DOG OF THE WEEK
49ERS (1-10) AT BEARS (2-9)
Line: CHI by 1.
Cote’s pick: SF 28-21.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
The Dog collar for worst matchup of the week should officially be renamed after this game. And, most shocking of all, the Cleveland Browns are not involved! The combined 3-19 record here presents an unbeatable résumé. In lieu of playoff implications, there are 2017 draft ramifications. San Fran has been the better team lately, with Colin Kaepernick applying heart paddles to a lifeless offense (as Miami saw last week). In a matchup of two bad defenses, I like The Kneeler to outscore Matt Barkley. Upset! Sort of.
CHIEFS (8-3) AT FALCONS (7-4)
Line: ATL by 4.
Cote’s pick: ATL 31-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
This one had some Game of the Week support, but here’s one where schedule context comes into play. KC had an emotional OT win over division rival Denver last week, and next week must torque it upon again for an AFC West first-place battle with Oakland. So I’m seeing a letdown by Chiefs in this in-betweener of a non-conference roadie. Plus, ATL’s offense is really good.
LIONS (7-4) AT SAINTS (5-6)
Line: NO by 6.
Cote’s pick: NO 34-30.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Like offense, do you? Like a game where the over/under on the combined passing-yards total might be around 800? Welcome to Matthew Stafford at Drew Brees. Stafford rates 105.7 over his past seven road games. Brees has a TD pass in a record 60 consecutive home games. Take the day off, cornerbacks. Give me Fleur de Lis at home, but Motown to keep it inside the bet-line.
RAMS (4-7) AT PATRIOTS (9-2)
Line: NE by 13 1/2.
Cote’s pick: NE 31-13.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida).
So Rob Gronkowski reportedly is done for the year with back surgery. Headline: “How the Gronk Stole Christmas.” Except, of course, New England will be fine. In general, and especially in this game, as Tom Brady parades to his record-setting 201st win as a starting QB. By the way, after Jeff Fisher’s controversy this week, how great would it be if Bill Belichick personally invited Eric Dickerson onto his sideline?
BRONCOS (7-4) AT JAGUARS (2-9)
Line: DEN by 4.
Cote’s pick: DEN 24-13.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Dolphins fans will be rooting for Jax because Denver is a major wild-card rival of Miami’s. Sorry, Dolfans. Not happening. Jags were supposed to be an “it” team on the rise. Instead, they’re a [bleep] team (rhymes with “it”) coming in off six losses in a row. There were increasing late-week indications Paxton Lynch might be Denver’s QB on Sunday for hobbled Trevor Siemian. No matter. Broncos D will steer this result and make it a chaotic day for mistake-prone Blake Bortles.
TEXANS (6-5) AT PACKERS (5-6)
Line: GB by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: GB 27-16.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Last week with admitted trepidation I finally abandoned the emptying Packers bandwagon — just in time to watch Aaron Rodgers lead a big win. Sorry I doubted you, A.R. I’m back! Rodgers is hampered by a hamstring issue this week but our pick here presumes he’ll be playing. As much, it presumes Brock Osweiler will continue to be lousy for the NFL’s only division leader with a minus points differential.
EAGLES (5-6) AT BENGALS (3-7-1)
Line: CIN by 1.
Cote’s pick: CIN 21-17.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
The Disappointment Bowl. Philly banged out of the starting gate 3-0 but has since lurched and limped thanks largely to a 1-5 road record. Downward-spiraling Cincinnati is in the midst of seeing its five-year playoff streak end. ’Gals likely to be missing top WR A.J. Green, but we’re still feeling Cincy on a venue call. Carson Wentz hasn’t been very good lately.
GIANTS (8-3) AT STEELERS (6-5)
Line: PIT by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: PIT 27-23.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida).
Another Game of the Week candidate. Streaking Giants have won six in a row based largely on unexpectedly stout defense offsetting a negligible running game that has heaped inordinate pressure on Eli Manning. Pitt’s two consecutive wins have hauled it back into AFC wild-card contention. Steelers have lost four of past six home games but should get that Ketchup Field mojo back behind a hot Ben Roethlisberger.
REDSKINS (6-4-1) AT CARDINALS (4-6-1)
Line: ARI by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: ARI 28-24.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox.
Washers are well alive in a densely muddled NFC wild-card race, and even ’Zona is still in it — though a longshot likely needing to run the table. Kirk Cousins has been as good as any QB in football the past few games, but Cardbirds’ pass defense is really good. That and the venue make me like the Cacti in what isn’t an upset but sort of feels like one.
BUCCANEERS (6-5) AT CHARGERS (5-6)
Line: SD by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: SD 34-31.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox.
Here are a pair of sneaky-good teams, modest of record but capable of beating anybody. Bucs have feathered the résumé with consecutive upset wins over Chiefs and Seahawks, and have 18 defensive takeaways during their 5-2 run. Bolts have been credible since that 1-4 start and have led in all six losses. Like Philip Rivers at home, but hedging with that extra half-point on a Tampa team that has been better this year on the road than at home.
PANTHERS (4-7) AT SEAHAWKS (7-3-1)
Line: SEA by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: SEA 24-20.
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
A bit of Game of the Week heft here, too, if only because the past three NFC champions are repped on this prime-time stage. Cats and ’Hawks also share the NFL’s best December record (19-5) over past five seasons. Carolina has won past two meetings but has health issues on its O-line. Seattle is NFL’s only unbeaten team at home and should see a big bounceback game after last week’s humbling, abberant loss at Tampa.
COLTS (5-6) AT JETS (3-8)
Line: IND by 1 1/2.
Cote’s pick: NYJ 23-21.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).
Here’s one of those matchups that get ESPN and its ratings in trouble and will have the “MNF” announcers tap-dancing in the booth to make this one seem interesting. Indy expects to have QB Andrew Luck back from a concussion, so there’s that, at least. Luck has struggled in two career meetings vs. NYJ (one TD, five picks), and Planes should be amped at home for a face-saving if not season-saving, prime-time win. Upset!
OFF THIS WEEK
▪ Browns (0-12; next vs. Bengals): Specter of 0-16 has become real and is growing. And next week’s home date with rival Cincy may be Earthtones’ best shot to avoid that historic ignominy.
▪ Titans (6-6; next vs. Broncos): Tennessee and Marcus Mariota are lurking on periphery of AFC wild-card hunt but from here would need a lot of winning and just as much luck.