NFL WILD-CARD PLAYOFFS
GREG COTE'S NFL PICKS OF THE WEEK
My regular season against the spread was a symphony, but then the very last note I hit was off-key. Been picking NFL games in the Miami Herald for 26 years, and had a chance to break my all-time best season ATS record of .574, but then choked in Week 17, went 6-10, and finished at .560. That's still really strong, a buoyant 30 games over .500 vs. the evil betting line. But I could-a made history! Still can, though, including the playoffs. All it'll take is a 10-1 postseason run. Dream big or go home, right? Let's roll.
Overall Pct. Vs. spread Pct.
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Last week 11- 5 .688 6- 10 .375
Season 159-95-2 .626 139-109-8 .560
RAIDERS (12-4, No. 5 seed)
at TEXANS (9-7, No. 4)
Line: HOU by 3 ½
Cote's pick: OAK 20-17
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN
“AAAWWWK!” shouts the Upset Bird. “Wait. Whu--?” [U-Bird has just been reminded he appears during the regular season only, not in playoffs] The opener of the postseason's weekend quartet is a weird one because neither team has its quarterback of choice. Raiders resort to Connor Cook – who'll be first rookie in Super Bowl era to make first NFL start in a playoff game – because a broken leg ended Derek Carr's Pro Bowl season. Broncos return to benched free-agent bust Brock Osweiler only because replacement Tom Savage is concussed. Oaks beat Denver 27-20 in Mexico City in November, but what will matter most in these teams' first-ever playoff meeting is which undesirable QB will be the least-bad. Cook has two thousand-yard receivers and a really good offensive line, and won't need to score much to beat the punchless Texans and extend Oakland's first playoff appearance since 2002. Houston isn't very good and will show it. Upset!
DOLPHINS (10-6, No. 6)
at STEELERS (11-5, No.3)
Line: PIT by 10
Cote's pick: PIT 27-20
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Fins handled Pittsburgh pretty soundly and impressively, 30-15, in October back in Miami led by Jay Ajayi's 200 yards rushing – yet Steelers are biggest favorites of Wild-Card Weekend, a gaping 10-point spread. Why? It isn't just that (as of Thursday) Matt Moore seemed sure to start again for Ryan Tannehill. No, it is that 10 degrees in wintry Pittsburgh provides a perceived huge home-field advantage. It's also that Miami, taking its first playoff bow since 2008, is seen as sort of the happy-to-be-here interloper ready for its reality check. Also hard to envision that Big Ben Roethlisberger, the two-time champion making his 18th postseason start, won't best Moore making his first. Did I mention Steelers are on a seven-game winning streak? One more: Dolfans should be concerned far less about no-Tannehill than about their defense giving up 31 or more points in three of past five games. Having said all that, though, the double-digit betting line either flatters Pitt or disrespects Miami, or both. Do I see Dolphins winning a playoff game for the first time since 2000? Nope. But I like them with the points, bowing out respectably.
PATRIOTS (14-2, No. 1 seed) – Tom Brady shook off his opening four-game suspension to throw 28 TD passes vs. two interceptions, the best season ratio in NFL history. (Will host Dolphins or Raiders-Texans winner next Saturday at 8:15 p.m.).
CHIEFS (12-4, No. 2) – Onus on KC to remind us why we should trust it in postseason, with franchise 1-8 in playoffs since reaching 1993 AFC title game. (Will host Steelers or Raiders-Texans winner next Sunday at 1:05 p.m.).
LIONS (9-7, No. 6 seed)
at SEAHAWKS (10-5-1, No. 3)
Line: SEA by 8
Cote's pick: SEA 28-16
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NBC
I am not a slave to trends steering bets (the trend is your friend, but, also, the trend must end), but the contrast this matchup presents mustn't be ignored. Seattle is a really good home team (48-13 under Pete Carroll) and on an 8-0 postseason run in their own stadium. Oppositely Detroit is on an 0-8 playoff run and hasn't won in postseason since 1991, when Michael Jackson's “Black or White” was all over the radio. Russell Wilson and Seahawks have won a playoff game each of past four straight seasons; Januarys do not rattle them. Not sure I feel the same about Matthew Stafford and these Lions – especially with Stafford obviously still bothered by that injured finger on his throwing hand, a big reason Motown closed with three straight losses. Detroit won a record eight games after trailing in fourth quarter or OT. Means they're lucky more than good. Lions winning in Seattle would be even bigger shock than Miami winning in Pittsburgh. Won't happen.
GIANTS (11-5, No. 5)
at PACKERS (10-6, No. 4)
Line: GB by 4 ½
Cote's pick: GB 30-23
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Wild-Card Weekend wraps with the Packers' exceptionally hot Aaron Rodgers challenged by a really strong Giants pass defense – all in the classic, playoff-perfect ambience of the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. I can see my breath just thinking about it! Anybody got any mittens? Such history, too, with two franchises tied for the most all-time playoff appearances (32) and this their eighth playoff meeting. Another sidelight: Biggies coach Ben McAdoo was an eight-year Pack assistant, and Rodgers' QB coach in 2012-13. Gee Bees beat NYG 23-16 in October. Then again, Pack also won in regular season in 2007 and '11, only to lose to Big Blue both times in playoffs. But that little streaks ends Sunday. Giants would need a big game from erratic Eli Manning – very possible against a banged-up GB secondary – to fashion an upset. But I feel safer trusting Rodgers, who has led Cheesers to six straight wins, to stay way hot in the freezing cold.
COWBOYS (13-3, No. 1 seed) – Dak Prescott (104.9) set NFL rookie record for passer rating, while Ezekiel Elliott (1,631) was first rook to lead league in rushing since 1999. (Will host Lions or Giants-Packers winner next Sunday at 4:40 p.m.).
FALCONS (11-5, No. 2) – Matt Ryan had what could be an MVP season but is 1-4 in playoffs and making first postseason start in four years. (Will host Seahawks or Giants-Packers winner next Saturday at 4:35 p.m.).