NFL WEEK 17
GREG COTE’S NFL PICKS OF THE WEEK
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
BILLS (8-7) at DOLPHINS (6-9)
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LINE: BUF by 2 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: MIA 23-17.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS.
Nine of the 12 NFL playoff tickets have been punched entering this final all-Sunday weekend of the regular season, and six teams remain alive for the remaining three spots. Alas, the Dolphins are not among the halves, relegated instead to the dubious incentive of trying to avoid what would be only the franchise’s seventh 10-loss season since 1970. Another sad, better-than-nothing incentive: Playing spoiler to Buffalo’s (faint) hopes. To reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999 the Bills must beat Miami and either have the Ravens lose or have the Chargers and Titans both lose. Got that? How fitting the Dolphins would find themselves positioned as spoilers. The entire season has looked, felt and smelled spoiled. Rotten. It was back to mediocrity, as if the aberration of last year’s playoff season never even really happened. Give coach Adam Gase credit for not sugar-coating, as when he said Thursday, simply (and accurately): “Nobody has done anything great. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” Sunday almost certainly will mark the farewell appearance for QB Jay Cutler, the pricey one-year rental who, like the entire team, had too few solid performances interspersed amid the prevailing erratic underperforming. Buffs beat Fins 24-16 only two weeks ago. With little cause but a hunch, I see Miami finishing strong with a home upset over a Bills squad that is only 2-5 away. So Miami continues the long Bison playoff drought, at least. Hey, it’s better than nothing … albeit barely.
GAME OF THE WEEK
PANTHERS (11-4) at FALCONS (9-6)
LINE: ATL by 4.
COTE’S PICK: ATL 27-24.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox.
Tempted as I was to place the Game of the Week sash on Cleveland-Pittsburgh as the 0-15 Browns try to avoid historic ignominy, here’s a division rivalry with actual stakes. Carolina is playoff-clinched but its seeding is in play. Atlanta, more desperate, must win to assure itself a playoff spot — or, otherwise, must pray heavily favored Seattle loses at home in a concurrent game. Panthers have won seven of their past eight overall, beat Birds in earlier meeting 20-17 and are 3-1 in season finales at Atlanta. Nevertheless, give me Matt Ryan at home in what very likely is a must-win game.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
49ERS (5-10) at RAMS (11-4)
LINE: SF by 3 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: LAR 23-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox.
“AAAWWWK!” croons the Upset Bird. “Happy New Year, all. Auld Lang Saawwk!” This is among a handful of Week 17 games with screwball betting lines based on playoff-clinched teams maybe resting starters. For example we know RB Todd Gurley and star DT Aaron Donald will sit for Rams, who already have secured club’s first division title since 2003. I still like Rams at home. They’ll want some tailwind heading into playoffs. Plus, Jimmy Garoppolo — 6-0 as a starter including 4-0 with Niners — is bound to Garoppolose sometime, right? “Indeed,” concurs U-Bird. “Garoppolaawwk!”
@Lions (8-7, -7) over Packers (7-8), 23-20: Give us Gee Bees with the points but Motown outright in a result that might save Jim Caldwell’s job. Both teams out of playoff contention.
@Colts (3-12, -4) over Texans (4-11), 19-17: Line opened even but swung sharply to home ‘Nags in an ugly matchup. I get it. Houston is 1-6 away, and T.J. Yates is redefining awful.
@Vikings (12-3, -13) over Bears (5-10), 31-13: Minnesota QB Case Keenum should get an MVP vote or two. I’m serious. Vikes need to win (or hope Carolina loses) to clinch a first-round bye. Done. Almost forgot: Bye bye, John Fox.
@Patriots (12-3, -16 1/2) over Jets (5-10), 34-10: No resting Tom Brady because Pats must win (or hope for a very unlikely Steelers loss) to clinch home-field throughout playoffs, a.k.a, a free pass to the Super Bowl. New England only won earlier meeting by 24-17, but Planes are piloted now by Bryce Petty, who’s been terrible.
Redskins (7-8, -3) over @Giants (2-13), 21-17: Eli Manning’s last game as a Giant? Hey we gotta find some reason to watch this, right? Give NYG a big upset shot in a points-shy affair.
@Eagles (13-2, +3) over Cowboys (8-7), 23-20: That Philly is unbeaten at home but a home ‘dog owes to Birds having already clinched home-field throughout playoffs, so no stakes. But that goes for eliminated Dallas, too. Crapshoot pick because who knows how much starters will play, but still like the better team at home.
@Steelers (12-3, -12 1/2) over Browns (0-15), 24-6: Will Browns join 2008 Lions as only 0-16 teams? Is the Pope Catholic? Steelers would claim home-field throughout playoffs by winning only if Patriots lose. Cleveland coach Hue Jackson says he’ll fulfill a promise and jump into Lake Erie. May have no choice. Fans will be chasing him with torches and pitchforks.
Chiefs (9-6, +3 1/2) over @Broncos (5-10), 17-10: Another bizarre betting line because KC is locked into No. 4 AFC playoff seed and will start rookie Patrick Mahomes at QB and rest Alex Smith. But Paxton Lynch, almost as green, goes for Denver. Make it Mahomes and Chiefs defense.
@Titans (8-7, -3 1/2) over Jaguars (10-5), 24-21: And the parade of oddball bet-lines continues! Jax is in playoffs but says it won’t rest starters. Titans make playoffs by winning but likely miss if they lose. Give me the home team with the must-win stakes.
@Chargers (8-7, -8) over Raiders (6-9), 27-23: Chargers have won eight of past 11 but it’s win-and-pray here. To make playoffs L.A. must win and then receive the gift of losses by the Titans and either the Bills or Bengals.
@Seahawks (9-6, -10) over Cardinals (7-8), 24-10: Playing for its life, Seattle must win and hope Falcons lose at home to Carolina to slip into the postseason. Cardbirds have won three of past four trips to Seattle but coach Bruce Arians erred telling his players, “We know that’s our home field.” Bulletin board, anyone?
Saints (11-4, -7) over @Buccaneers (4-11), 31-16: N’Awlins began season 0-2 but can clinch NFC South and enhance its playoff standing with a win here. Tampa’s defense vs. Drew Brees is a mismatch.
@Ravens (9-6, -10 1/2) over Bengals (6-9), 23-17: Ravens should be thinking must-win here. Win and they make the playoffs, lose and they’d need both Bills and Titans to lose. Cincy offense will struggle with Crows’ D. Oh, and farewell to Marvin Lewis, who in 15 years as ‘Gals coach won the same number of playoff games (0) as you and I did.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We carded a solid 12-4 mark straight-up last week and rolled a marginally decent 7-8-1 against the spread, with the Eagles win by nine the push for the tie. Had Titans with the points in our Upset of the Week (“Aawwk!”), and also had ‘dog Seahawks with points. This season has been a struggle for us. A month ago we feared setting career lows both overall and ATS, but a strong finish may have dodged those bullets as we head into the all-Sunday final week of the regular season. We’re now comfortably above our overall season low of .573 in 2008. It’s still a crapshoot, though, against the Evil Betting Line. We are right at .450. Our career low is .449, set in 2006. So it all comes down to this week. Roll on, big finish!
Overall Pct. Vs. Spread Pct.
▪ Week 16: 12-4 (.750); 7-8-1 (.469).
▪ Season: 147-93 (.613); 100-124-16 (.450).
▪ Final 2016: 159-95-2 (.626); 139-109-8 (.560).