Misfired badly last week thinking Oakland would upset Houston. Miami also let us down by not really competing in Pittsburgh. NFL was the big loser, though, as its postseason began with four boring wild-card games decided by a combined score of 121-45. But count on King Sport to rebound in this weekend’s divisional round, with three of four games looking like great matchups that could tip either way. After a lousy first round and then the Chargers bolting San Diego for L.A. this week, the beleaguered NFL could use a big weekend. Me, too.
TEXANS (10-7, No. 4 seed) AT PATRIOTS (14-2, No. 1)
Line: NE by 15.
Cote’s pick: NE 45-10.
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, CBS.
So weird the weekend’s lone prime-time game is the one you can’t imagine being anything but a rout. I predict New England will be ahead 10-0 before the national anthem ends and then also return the pregame coin toss for a touchdown. Patriots opened a 16-point favorite before that settled down by one. I go all the way back to the 1998 season to find a divisional-round game with a bigger line. (That was Vikings over Cardinals by 16 1/2, and Minny covered, 41-21.) The perceived disparity here is well-founded. Pats are 7-1 in all-time series, including 4-0 at home, and won the only playoff meeting 41-28 in 2012. NE whipped Texans this season in Week 3 by 27-0 despite using third-string QB Jacoby Brissett, and have won past two meetings by 54-6. Does anybody really see Brock Osweiler outscoring Tom Brady? Now, Brady gets WR Danny Amendola back. That’s like Warren Buffett finding money. Oh, and New England’s defense is better, too.
STEELERS (12-5, No. 3 seed) AT CHIEFS (12-4, No. 2)
Line: KC by 1 1/2.
Cote’s pick: PIT 24-20.
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, NBC.
Upset! The Steelers clobbered the Chiefs 43-14 in Week 4, the low point of KC’s season. I know it’s tough to beat a quality team twice in one season. Also know Chiefs will enjoy the revenge edge along with the home field — just as Pittsburgh owned both vs. Miami last week. But the Pittsburgh I just saw handle the Dolphins is good enough to solve a very strong K-City defense and move on. Give me swashbuckling Ben Roethlisberger (his aggravated foot injury seems fine) over safe-guy Alex Smith. I also think Le’Veon Bell will be a huge factor, although expected wintry rain could be a joker in the deck. Another key will be Pitt’s defense vs. TE Travis Kelce and its special teams containing KC’s electric Tyreek Hill. I also trust recent history. These Steelers are playoff-proven. KC, by contrast, is 1-8 in the postseason since last reaching the AFC title game in 1993. So pour yourself an Iron City and toast the weekend’s only upset.
SEAHAWKS (11-5-1, No. 3 seed) AT FALCONS (11-5, No. 2)
Line: ATL by 5.
Cote’s pick: ATL 30-23.
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, Fox.
An interesting matchup leads off the divisional round’s weekend quartet. Seattle brings to this game the armor and cache of recent playoff success. Russell Wilson is 8-3 in the postseason, has reached two of past three Super Bowls and won one. Matt Ryan? He’s 1-4 in the playoffs and making his first appearance in four years. So by that gauge all of the pressure here is on the home-nesting Falcons. Can they handle it? I think yes. Wilson and the Seahawks are decidedly more beatable on the road, and not even a strong SEA defense will get the better of a league-leading ATL machine that churned out 33.8 points per game. Atlanta won these teams’ only playoff meeting in 2012. Seattle won 26-24 in Week 6, but a blown late call cost Atlanta what likely would have been a winning field goal. Something else: Falcs were 4-0 down the stretch and are rested. ’Hawks were 3-3 in last six regular-season games to cede the first-round bye.
PACKERS (11-6, No. 4 seed) AT COWBOYS (13-3, No. 1)
Line: DAL by 4 1/2.
Cote’s pick: DAL 27-24.
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
Heavyweight matchup bats cleanup for the weekend as two teams associated with the playoffs go at it. It’s hot-as-Hades Aaron Rodgers vs. super-rooks Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. It’s a storied Green Bay franchise with more NFL championships than anybody visiting a Dallas club seeking its first Super Bowl invite in 21 years and trying to reclaim its “America’s Team” heft. Delicious! It also is these teams’ eighth postseason meeting, with ’Boys up 4-3 but Gee Bees winning the most recent meeting in 2014. Dallas handled GB at Lambeau 30-16 in Week 6, but Pack rolls in sizzling with seven consecutive wins by a combined 223-125 and Rodgers 18-0 on TD/picks in that run. I trust Rodgers — a lot — and an outright upset would not surprise, especially if Jordy Nelson (ribs) is playing. Did I mention Jason Garrett is 1-4 vs. Green Bay? I still like the Big D, healthier than it’s been all year and home. But take Cheesers with the points.