Greg Cote

No Christmas-time clinch for Dolphins

The Dolphins’ task on Saturday will be to contain the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor, who has a 122.8 rating in his past three games against Miami and leads all quarterbacks with 520 yards rushing.
The Dolphins’ task on Saturday will be to contain the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor, who has a 122.8 rating in his past three games against Miami and leads all quarterbacks with 520 yards rushing. AP

Got knocked around a bit last week, but when you pick the Jets to beat the Dolphins, I guess you deserve the worst. (What was I thinking!?) Not beating myself up over the Upset of the Week misfire, though. Had a big shot, as Cincy never trailed Pittsburgh the entire game until the final score. The tie against the spread was Oakland pushing at minus-3. Nailed a trio of ’dogs-with-points in Bears, Colts and then Panthers on Monday night. Let’s finish strong, shall we? [Note: Thursday-game pick was Giants (-2 ½) over Eagles, 20-17].

Overall

Pct.

Vs. spread

Pct.

Last week

10-6

.625

6-9-1

.400

Season

140-82-2

.631

123-93-8

.569

DOLPHINS THIS WEEK

DOLPHINS (9-5) AT BILLS (7-7)

Line: BUF by  3 1/2.

Cote’s pick: BUF 23-20.

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, CBS (airing in South Florida).

Simple: Miami ends its eight-season playoff drought if it beats the Bills on Saturday followed by a Denver loss Christmas night in Kansas City. Except the first part of that equation won’t be simple at all. The Dolphins haven’t won in Buffalo since 2011, freezing rain is forecast, and the Bills — with only infinitesimal, barely breathing playoff hopes — are in a classic spoiler’s role vs. their AFC East rivals. Fins beat Buffs 28-25 in Miami on Oct. 23 as Bison blew an 11-point lead entering fourth quarter. Jay Ajayi galloped for 214 yards that day but has only 205 yards in his past four games combined. LeSean McCoy is the hottest runner entering this game. Tyrod Taylor could be a handful, too. He has a 122.8 rating his past three games vs. MIA and leads all QBs with 520 yards rushing. I respect the 8-1 run Miami is on that has made playoff hopes real, but I consider Buffalo to be just as good and think the home-field edge in this weather will be large. Also, Matt Moore will be facing a much better pass defense than the Jets’ version he scalpeled last week. Sorry, Dolfans, but Grinch Cote says no playoff-clinch this week.

GAME OF THE WEEK

RAVENS (8-6) AT STEELERS (9-5)

Line: PIT by 5.

Cote’s pick: PIT 24-20.

TV: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, NFLN (airing in South Florida).

Call this one the NFL’s Christmas Day gift to fans. Baltimore-Pittsburgh is one of league’s genuinely most bitter rivalries, but it’s our Game of the Week for reasons beyond that. It could be tantamount to winner-take-all for the playoffs. Steelers clinch AFC North with a win, but division odds swing to Ravens if they win, because they’d enjoy the tiebreaker of a series sweep. And second place in this division is hardly assured a wild-card spot. Ben Roethlisberger is only 9-9 in his career vs. Crows, with 19 interception. Crabcakers also have limited Le’Veon Bell to 68-yard average in six meetings. But Baltimore has lost four consecutive road games this season, and Pittsburgh in winter is a tougher venue than most. Bet-line feels a bit generous, but I’ll almost always take Big Ben straight-up on his own turf.

UPSET OF THE WEEK

COLTS (7-7) AT RAIDERS (11-3)

Line: OAK by  3 1/2.

Cote’s pick: IND 31-24.

TV: 4:05 p.m. Saturday, CBS.

AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird, imbued by holiday spirit of an alcoholic variety. “Andrew Laaawwwwk!” Oakland already has clinched its first playoff spot since 2002, while underachieving Indy, though not mathematically out, would need a Christmas miracle. Still raw-hunching Colts for a big performance here. Andrew Laaawwwk, I mean, Luck, right now, is better than Derek Carr thanks to the latter’s limiting finger injury. And OAK’s defense (despite Khalil Mack) is not appreciably better than Indy’s. Also, Colts have won four road games in a row. “Yes, a surprisingly stout road squad,” U-Bird nods agreeably. “Merry Christmaawwk! Santa Claawwk!”

DOG OF THE WEEK

49ERS (1-13) AT RAMS (4-10)

Line: L.A. by 4.

Cote’s pick: L.A. 16-13.

TV: 4:25 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

With the Browns going for 0-15 it takes quite a rotten game to snatch the Dog collar, but how can you resist a combined record of 5-23? Jared Goff was iffy to start for L.A. because of a concussion, but it’s not as if the Rammed have been a better offense since benching Case Keenum. Niners won Week 1 meeting 28-0 but see a turnaround here. Todd Gurley should finally get his elusive 100.

JETS (4-10) AT PATRIOTS (12-2)

Line: NE by  16 1/2.

Cote’s pick: NE 38-13.

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, CBS.

Patriots have clinched AFC East crown and first-round bye but still aim for home-field thorughout, so can’t afford a stumble here. And that isn’t likely against a Jets team that (based on last week’s effort vs. Miami) already has quit on Todd Bowles. Bryce Petty is iffy for Planes, so Ryan Fitzpatrick is on standby. Like it matters? Bill Belichick gets his 200th Pats win, and Tom Brady gets the 270 yards he needs to surpass Dan Marino for fourth all-time.

TITANS (8-6) AT JAGUARS (2-12)

Line: TEN by  4 1/2.

Cote’s pick: TEN 23-21.

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, CBS.

Tennessee likely needs to win out (or hope Houston loses) to eke into the playoffs, but Jax (despite nine losses in a row) could be a bigger-than-expected test. The coaching change, with interim guy Doug Marrone in for Gus Bradley, could provide a jolt, and Blake Bortles has eight TDs vs. zero picks in past two meetings with Titans. Not calling the upset. But wouldn’t be surprised.

VIKINGS (7-7) AT PACKERS (8-6)

Line: GB by 7.

Cote’s pick: GB 30-20.

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, Fox (airing in South Florida).

Green Bay, winner of four in a row, can clinch a playoff spot by winning here if a few other things all fall right. Minnesota, once 5-0, is technically alive but needs a miracle of Biblical size. Aaron Rodgers is 10-0 on TDs/picks his past five games, and when he’s really hot and the weather is really cold and the game is at Lambeau, I’ll take the Gee Bees, please and thank you.

CHARGERS (5-9) AT BROWNS (0-14)

Line: SD by  5 1/2.

Cote’s pick: SD 28-14.

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, CBS.

Cleveland closes next week at Pittsburgh, which might need the win to make playoffs. So this realistically is the Browns’ last, best hope to avoid the ignominy of 0-16, which hasn’t been done since Detroit in 2008. Do not discount the chance of an Earthones upset. Diego has lost four of past fives, and Melvin Gordon is likely out. Still. It’s the Browns. They’ve lost six in a row by double digits.

REDSKINS (7-6-1) AT BEARS (3-11)

Line: WAS by  3 1/2.

Cote’s pick: WAS 24-17

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

Washington, slumping and wearing that tie game like an anchor, must win out and pray to make the playoffs. After losing Monday night, Skins might be ripe for a road upset. The thing is, Kirk Cousins will complete 30-plus passes and really spread it around in what seems to me an unfavorable matchup for this Bears defense.

FALCONS (9-5) AT PANTHERS (6-8)

Line: ATL by  2 1/2.

Cote’s pick: ATL 34-27.

TV: 1 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

Atlanta clinches NFC South crown with a win if Tampa also loses, and Falcons sew up playoff spot by winning if a few others things go right. Carolina is not yet officially eliminated, but Panthers are less likely to make playoffs than you are to be hit by lightning while riding a unicycle in downtown Buenos Aires. Matt Ryan had 503 pass-yards and Birds rolled up 48 points on Cats in October. The ATL offense is close to unstoppable.

BUCCANEERS (8-6) AT SAINTS (6-8)

Line: NO by 3.

Cote’s pick: NO 31-23.

TV: 4:25 p.m. Saturday, Fox (airing in South Florida).

Tampa Bay clinches playoff spot by winning here if Packers, Lions and Redskins all lose. N’Awlins is not quite dead, but all but. Like Saints at home to make it tough on Bucs. Tampa defense had its way in first meeting, but Saints had won eight of past nine in series before that. And it’s tough to dominate the Pro Bowl-snubbed Drew Brees twice in one season.

CARDINALS (5-8-1) AT SEAHAWKS (9-4-1)

Line: SEA by  7 1/2.

Cote’s pick: SEA 27-16.

TV: 4:25 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

Low stakes, with Seattle already having clinched NFC West title and ’Zona out of it — although Seabirds still are angling to secure a first-round bye. Teams fought to a 6-6 tie in October but have veered oppositely since. The visitors are injury-battered, and I’d be a little surprised if Russell Wilson and his guys had much problem in this game.

BENGALS (5-8-1) AT TEXANS (8-6)

Line: Even.

Cote’s pick: CIN 21-19.

TV: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, NFLN (airing in South Florida).

Houston clinches AFC South title with a win if Tennessee also loses — but I don’t see Cincy letting that happen. Bengals are eliminated but perfect for the spoiler role, especially getting A.J. Green back from injury. Not ready to trust QB Tom Savage, in his first career start, to ignite a tepid offense and outscore Andy Dalton, even though Texans are 6-1 at home.

BRONCOS (8-6) AT CHIEFS (10-4)

Line: K.C. by  3 1/2.

Cote’s pick: K.C. 21-17.

TV: 8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC (airing in South Florida).

Your Christmas nightcap, our Game of the Week first-alternate, finds Kansas Cty able to clinch a playoff berth with a win or a Ravens loss, while Denver, now a longshot, must win and hope for help. Medium upset shot for visitors, but Chiefs a solid home team that has won past two in series and riding a 9-0 run in division games.

LIONS (9-5) AT COWBOYS (12-2)

Line: DAL by  7 1/2.

Cote’s pick: DAL 24-20

TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).

Traditional Thanskgiving Day hosts meet in our Game of the Week second-alternate on the Monday stage. Dallas clinches NFC East and home-field throughout with a win here — or if Giants lost Thursday night. Detroit clinches NFC North title with a win here or a loss by Packers. And Lions clinch playoff spot with a win or loss by Bucs. The better team is home, but bet-line disrespects Motown and the Pro Bowl-snubbed Matthew Stafford.

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