Greg Cote

After losing 40-0 then trading Jay Ajayi for box of kicking tees, Dolphins get jolt of good news

Jay Cutler is back from injury for Dolphins on Sunday. After watching Matt Moore last week, this qualifies as good news.
Jay Cutler is back from injury for Dolphins on Sunday. After watching Matt Moore last week, this qualifies as good news. AP

NFL WEEK 9

GREG COTE'S NFL PICKS OF THE WEEK

DOLPHINS THIS WEEK

RAIDERS (3-5) at DOLPHINS (4-3)

LINE: OAK by 3.

COTE'S PICK: MIA 24-20.

TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC.

These were both AFC playoff teams last season, and neither are looking the part this year. But this tells you all you need to know about the public's especially low regard for Miami: That the Dolphins are underdogs at home to an opponent with a worse record – an opponent that has lost five of its past six games. If betting lines could talk, this one would be saying, “Your 4-3 record is a fraud, Dolphins. You stink!” And that negative perception was only magnified, underlined and italicized by this week's logic-defying trade of top RB Jay Ajayi to the Eagles in exchange for a lowly fourth-round draft pick. Dumb! A bad offense got worse, and a roster with limited starpower got less talented. Dummmb! The question now is whether the Fins can begin to prove that negative perception wrong in this second of three straight prime-time opportunities, after falling flat in Baltimore last Thursday, 40-0. With great hesitaton and wavering confidence I say yes – not because I think Miami is better than average, but because Oakland, right now, is worse all-round. Derek Carr has been far from great, and only four teams have given up more points than the Raiders, so there should be opportunities as Jay Cutler returns at QB after a one-game injury absence and gets top target DeVante Parker back, too. Upset!

GAME OF THE WEEK

CHIEFS (6-2) at COWBOYS (4-3)

LINE: DAL by 1.

COTE'S PICK: DAL 34-31.

TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS.

Betting line swung from Chiefs by 1 to pick-'em to Cowboys by a point – trending Dallas despite the fact that Ezekiel Elliott (finally) will begin serving his six-game suspension Sunday, pending yet another delay on appeal. That means ex-FAU Owl Alfred Morris is in the wings as starting RB for 'Boys. I don't see a huge dropoff, oddly enough. Chiefs will be a bear of a challenge for Dallas' defense to stop led by Alex Smith, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, but Dak Prescott has ample weaponry, too, even sans Elliott. Should be a fun, high-octane game between quality teams.

UPSET OF THE WEEK

RAMS (5-2) at GIANTS (1-6)

LINE: LAR by 3 ½.

COTE'S PICK: NYG 21-19.

TV: 1 p.m., Fox.

“AAAWWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird. “New Yaaawwwk!” People have been Baker Act-ed for behavior less irrational than this pick. That I must admit. Los Angeles sails along as one of the season's pleasant surprises, with the NFL's second-best points differential, and with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley coming of age in impressive synchronicity. Meanwhile NYG is beset by decimating injuries and sputtering offense as coach Ben McAdoo struggles to keep his fraying team from a mutiny. There is no logical rationale to imagine the Giants-turned-Lilliputians winning. There is a just this raw hunch. So let's see. “The Rams' proneness to turnovers underpins the scant hope for this pick,” U-Bird mentions casually, almost as an aside. “Proneness to turnaaawwwk!”

OTHER GAMES

@Titans (4-3, -3 ½) over Ravens (4-4), 23-20: Upset alert. Crows not nearly as good as Miami made them look last Thursday, but good enough to keep this inside bet-line.

@Saints (5-2, -7) over Buccaneers (2-5), 30-17: Saints have won five straight with what you don't expect from N'Awlins: A ground game for balance on offense, and pretty good defense.

@Eagles (7-1, -7 ½) over Broncos (3-4), 24-13: Brock Osweiler starts at QB for struggling Trevor Siemian but brings no quick-fix as lack of offense continues to bedevil Denver. Meanwhile strong Philly got stronger by stealing RB Jay Ajayi from Dolphins.

@Panthers (5-3, Even) over Falcons (4-3), 20-17: Last two teams to lose a Super Bowl meet in pick-'em duel of NFC South contenders. Birds have won three straight in series, but like Cats here on defensive edge and venue.

@Jaguars (4-3, -5 ½) over Bengals (3-4), 21-14: RB Leonard Fournette (ankle) should be back, and Jags helped their run-D bigly by trading for Marcell Dareus.

@Texans (3-4, -13) over Colts (2-6), 31-17: Houston celebrates Astros' World Series title, but Texans are full of tumult, from owner Bob McNair likening players to inmates to coach Bill O'Brien's play-calling to trading away left tackle Duane Brown and now to the season-ending injury to rising-star QB Deshaun Watson. On the bright side, Indy stinks.

@49ers (0-8, +2 ½) over Cardinals (3-4), 19-17: Upset! “Aawwk!” Niners get off the winless schneid! C.J. Beathard starts again at QB for Frans, but whether newly acquired Jimmy Garoppolo sees action adds layer of intrigue to an otherwise low-watt game.

@Seahawks (5-2, -7 ½) over Redskins (3-4), 24-20: Can Eddie Lacy jump-start Seattle's ground game? 'Skins are banged up especially on O-line, but still hunch they keep it close.

@Packers (4-3, +2) over Lions (3-4), 23-20: Upset! “Aawwk!” What's the over/under on sideline shots and mentions of injured Aaron Rodgers Monday night? I say 9.5 and will take the 'over,' thanks. Lions are road favorites at Lambeau because the dropoff from Rodgers to Brett Hundley has been as seismic as you'd expect. But I'm hunching Pack find a way with big effort on D.

Week 8 byes: Bears, Browns, Chargers, Patriots, Steelers, Vikings.

HOW THE DARTS LANDED

We're 46.5 percent through the regular season entering NFL Week 9, so this tips us into the league's second half. The cement is setting. Hardening. Sadly, this means I am running out of time to turn around what is looking like one of my worst seasons in 27 years predicting King Sport in this space. Last week didn't help much. The 9-4 mark straight-up is OK, but 5-8 against the spread is not. We have not yet arrived at desolate abandonment of all hope, but we can see it from here. Time for a miracle rally! [Note: Thursday night pick was Bills (-3) over Jets, 23-19].

Overall Pct. Vs. Spread Pct.

Week 8 9-4 .692 5- 8 .385

Season 66-53 .555 46-65-8 .420

Final 2016 159-95-2 .626 139-109-8 .560

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