NFL PLAYOFFS / WILD-CARD WEEKEND
GREG COTE’S NFL PICKS OF THE WEEK
TITANS (9-7, No. 5 seed) at CHIEFS (10-6, No. 4)
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LINE: KC by 8 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: KC 30-17.
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, ESPN/ABC.
How dare the playoffs go on without Miami, although we should be used to that by now. But I’ll deploy a Dolphins Factor to explain why I think Saturday’s early game could be a mismatch. The 6-10 Fins handled the Titans 16-10 this season, but got dominated by the Chiefs, 29-13. That’s a small sample that says a lot. Tennessee, in its first postseason since 2008, feels like Miami did a year ago: Like an overmatched one-and-done waiting to happen. Titans QB Marcus Mariota is error-prone (15 INTs), and Kansas City’s defense had 26 takeaways this season — including 24 in its 10 wins. The pressure will really be on Mariota, especially if DeMarco Murray (knee) isn’t taking handoffs. Meanwhile Alex Smith and the more playoff-experienced Chiefs have a ton of weapons and should breeze to what, believe it or not, will be KC’s first postseason victory at Arrowhead in 24 years. Sidelight: Imminent Raiders coach Jon Gruden will be calling the game in the ESPN booth, likely describing a win by the team that will be his fiercest division rival in 2018.
BILLS (9-7, No. 6 seed) at JAGUARS (10-6, No. 3)
LINE: JAC by 8 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: JAC 24-13.
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
Sunday’s early game wraps up the AFC half of Wild-Card Weekend with an intriguing duel of franchises unaccustomed to this stage. The Bills, thanks largely to two wins over Miami (you’re welcome, Buffalo) are in playoffs for first time since 1999, ending longest drought in American pro sports. And the Jags advanced for first time since 2007 and are hosting their first playoff game since 1999, after being 17-63 — worst in NFL — over the previous five seasons. Key matchups seriously favor Jax. Buffalo’s O-line gave up league’s third-most sacks, and Jaguars’ pass rush is really good. See a rough afternoon for Tyrod Taylor, especially with LeSean McCoy’s ankle injury suffered in the finale vs. Miami hobbling him if he plays at all. Also, I really like Jags’ stout ground game vs. a shaky Bison run-D. A wild card here: Blake Bortles had a solid season but had seven turnovers in past two games. If Bad Blake shows up, Buffs have a shot. Sidelight: First-year J’ville boss Doug Marrone coached Bills in 2013-14 before opting out and walking away. He’ll return a villain.
PATRIOTS (13-3, No. 1 seed): New England is host next Saturday at 8:15 p.m. to lowest-seeded survivor among the Bills or Chiefs-Titans winner.
STEELERS (13-3, No. 2): Pittsburgh is host next Sunday at 1:05 p.m. to lowest-seeded survivor among the Jaguars or Chiefs-Titans winner.
FALCONS (10-6, No. 6 seed) at RAMS (11-5, No. 3)
LINE: LAR by 6 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: ATL 27-21.
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NBC.
Upset! (“Aawwk!”) Yes, I know. This is a high-risk upset pick. Atlanta somehow lost to Miami this season. And with that explosive Rams offense, L.A. could win by 20 and it wouldn’t shock. But I do think there’s a dues-paying aspect to the NFL postseason, and Matt Ryan and the Falcons have been there and paid that in a way the very young Rams have not. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have not done this before as they lead the Rams in L.A.’s first home playoff game since 1985. Coach Sean McVay is 31. Rams went from 4-12 a year ago to get here. They’re on the ascent. Their time will come. But, right now, give me Ryan and an Atlanta team still hungry to prove itself after blowing that big lead in last year’s Super Bowl. I think Devonta Freeman (from Miami Centra High) could enjoy a big day against a Rams run defense that was among’s NFL’s worst with 4.7 yards per carry allowed. Sidelight: This is the Rams’ second year back in Los Angeles after leaving St. Louis. In 51 seasons overall in L.A., the Rams’ only league championship there was in Norm Van Brocklin’s 1951.
PANTHERS (11-5, No. 5 seed) at SAINTS (11-5, No. 4)
LINE: NO by 7.
COTE’S PICK: NO 27-23.
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
Sunday’s late game wrapping up the NFC doubleheader and Wild-Card Weekend surely has South Florida’s respect, considering these two teams clobbered the Dolphins this season by 20-0 (Saints) and 45-21 (Panthers). N’Awlins swept the regular season NFC South series, beating Carolina 34-13 and 31-21. But if that only makes you like Carolina this time, hesitate on that. The 20 prior times since the 1970 merger that teams met again in the playoffs after one swept the other, the 2-0 team made it 3-0 13 times. I’ll take Cats with the points but Cajuns to make it a triple sweep. Saints rushed for 297 yards in those two season wins, and Cam Newton — hamstrung by the lack of an impact wide receiver — managed only 350 combined passing yards. Drew Brees, with both a running game and a defense for a change, has a shot to reach the Super Bowl. Sidelight: Both teams will have back key players who missed both of the season duels: Panthers with tight end Greg Olsen, the ex-Cane, and Saints with rookie cornerback sensation Marshon Lattimore.
EAGLES (13-3, No. 1 seed): Philadelphia is host next Saturday at 4:35 p.m. to lowest-seeded survivor among the Falcons or Saints-Panthers winner.
VIKINGS (13-3, No. 2): Minnesota is host next Sunday at 4:40 p.m. to lowest-seeded survivor among the Rams or Saints-Panthers winner.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
I have been doing these Friday NFL picks for 27 years, since 1991, and while I won’t say my 2017 regular season was the predictions equivalent of the Cleveland Browns going 0-16, I suppose an argument could be made. Overall, I was below average. Against the spread, I was below awful. There is no use trying to put a cherry on a bowl of [bleep]. My final overall mark of .609 tied for my sixth-worst ever. But I can swallow that as simply a down year. It’s the ATS record of .432, dragged down by last week’s impossibly embarrassing, worst-ever 2-13-1, that has me wishing my performance could be redacted from the public record. I feel like breaking the Internet or stealing papers off people’s lawns like Melinda Dillon in Absence of Malice. My previous worst season vs. the Evil Betting Line was .449, in 2006. I cannot explain the bottom falling out this season. Just a year earlier I’d been .560 ATS, which is really good. My career percentage ATS is still .504 — not bad picking every game rather than just cherry-picking. Anyway, we move on. We lift our chin up and put one foot in front of the other and call it life. On to the playoffs!
Overall Pct. Vs. Spread Pct.
Week 17 9-7 .563 2-13-1 .156
Final 2017 156-100 .609 102-137-17 .432
Final 2016 159-95-2 .626 139-109-8 .560