Greg Cote

Why Dolphins will get to 3-0 for only fourth time in past 20 years

DOLPHINS THIS WEEK

RAIDERS (0-2) at DOLPHINS (2-0)

Line: MIA by 3.

Cote’s pick: MIA, 24-20.

TV: 1 p.m., CBS.

We are standing at the door of rare stuff, knuckles poised to knock. The last three seasons the Dolphins started 3-0 were 2013, 2002 and 1998. I believe that door (creaky from lack of use) will swing open once again Sunday afternoon. The availability of safety Reshad Jones (shoulder) is one key, but if coach Adam Gase says he thinks he will play, I’m bankin’ it. Miami will need every defensive component — including Minkah Fitzpatrick justifying that “FitzMagic” trademark — versus a quarterback, Derek Carr, capable of going 29 of 32 as he did last week. Carr can razor through you with quick hits much as Ryan Tannehill is doing so efficiently thus far. Tannehill, though, has better surrounding weapons, and is backed by a better defense — especially now that Jon Gruden determined Khalil Mack to be expendable. (Thanks, Chucky!) I like Kenyan Drake uncorking himself against the Raiders’ soft run defense more than I like Marshawn Lynch going anywhere versus Miami’s stout ground D. Watch for great, effective balance in Fins’ attack. Oakland won in Miami 27-24 last November, so now we get another gauge of the Fins’ improvement and the impact of Tannehill’s return. Tannehill, by the way is 9-1 in his past 10 starts. Still, wide and stubborn doubt remains about these Fins. Miami being favored at home by only 3 points is the latest indication. The first three games on the Dolphins’ schedule are not daunting. The next two (at Patriots and at Bengals) are. This 3-0 start, there for the taking, would be a welcome and perhaps needed cushion if this season is to be one of playoff contention after all.

GAME OF THE WEEK

CHARGERS (1-1) at RAMS (2-0)

Line: Rams by 7.

Cote’s pick: LAR, 37-24.

TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS.

Saints-Falcons and Steelers-Bucs were braying for Week 3 GOTW honors, too, but this is the NFL’s first all-Los Angeles matchup since Rams vs. Raiders on Nov. 13, 1994. More than that historical note, an entertaining shootout is in the offing, with slingin’ Philip Rivers capable of keeping his Bolts in any game and the Rams newly Installed (for now) as the Super Bowl betting favorite. (The latter is no surprise, I had Rams No. 1 in my preseason 2018 NFL Team Rankings). Give me Rams’ firepower to cover the one-TD line at home, especially with injury-absence Chargers top sackman Joey Bosa.

UPSET OF THE WEEK

SAINTS (1-1) at FALCONS (1-1)

Line: ATL by 3

Cote’s pick: NO, 31-28

TV: 1 p.m., Fox

“AAAWWWK!” warbles the Upset Bird. “Bet the ‘over’ whenever Drew Brees is pitching against Matt Ryaawwk!” NFC South could be a rare four-team race, but you would do worse than to saddle up and ride with the winner of this game. Gamble to not safely like Falcs in the home nest, but Brees-to-Michael Thomas has been unstoppable, and I’m hunching N’Awlins’ defense shows up bigger than it has thus far. The fact Ryan’s top target Julio Jones (calf) and top back Devonta Freeman (knee) both might be limited also tilts the pick. “TILT!” bellows U-Bird, as if at a pinball machine. “He stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine. Sure plays a mean Drew Braaawwwk!”

THE REST OF WEEK 3

@Chiefs (2-0, -6 1/2) over 49ers (1-1), 34-20: I’ve been underestimating KC. Gonna stop that until given cause. This one finds sizzlin’ Patrick Mahomes (10 TD passes) versus an Iffy Niners’ air defense.

@Vikings (1-0-1, -16 1/2) over Bills (0-2), 30-0: Might not see a larger point spread all season, and for a reason. Vikes are great at home, Buffs aren’t very good away, and now rookie QB Josh Allen makes his first road start versus a defense that will canibalize him.

@Eagles (1-1, -7) over Colts (1-1), 27-17: Defending champs plan to finally have QB Carson Wentz back starting, but might be missing other key players, with Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Alshon Jeffery all iffy. Indy-plus-7 could be a fair play.

Packers (1-0-1, -3) over @Redskins (1-1), 24-20: Washington a tempting home ‘dog here, but Skins too inconsistent to trust much. Aaron Rodgers still battling that knee, but as seen last week, if he’s out there, he’s still Aaron Rodgers.

Bengals (2-0, +3) over @Panthers (1-1), 19-17: Upset! “Aawwk!” I get Cats being the betting pick at home, but Andy Dalton is looking like the QB Cincy fans always hoped he would be, and ‘Gals have scored 30-plus in two consecutive games to start a season for first time ever. Hunching they stay hot one more Sunday, at least.

@Jaguars (2-0, -6 1/2) over Titans (1-1), 20-12: Upset Alert! Jax has become a very strong home team but faces letdown after mega-win over Patriots last week. And Titans have won two in a row and four of past five in series. Like Tennessee with points, but Marcus Mariota being iffy (elbow) prevents the outright upset call.

@Ravens (1-1, -5 1/2) over Broncos (2-0), 23-20: Joe Flacco is hot and 10-1 on TDs/picks in past six home games, but Crows will be missing a big piece on defense in Pro Bowl LB C.J. Mosely (knee). Denver is 3-11 in past 14 on road, but line feels fat and still like Broncos-plus 5 1/2.

@Texans (0-2, -6) over Giants (0-2), 20-17: It’s Week 3’s only matchup of two 0-2 teams. Let’s party! Bet-line either flatters Houston or forgets that NYG has Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley to keep it close. An outright upset would not surprise.

Bears (1-1, -5 1/2) over @Cardinals (0-2), 19-6: These two are NFL’s only founding members still playing., and their 2018 meeting finds them at extremes. Chitown’s Khalil Mack-infused defense has been dominant, and ‘Zona’s offense has been putrid. Josh Rosen, please!?

@Seahawks (0-2, -1 1/2) over Cowboys (1-1), 23-20: Saying this flat-out: Love Dallas’ pass rush vs. a Seattle O-line that has allowed 12 sacks in two games. Russell Wilson could be under siege again. This, too, though: SEA has won nine consecutive home openers and 14 of its past 15 and, even diminished, ‘Hawks are too good for 0-3 and will find a way not to be.

Patriots (1-1, -6 1/2) over @Lions (0-2), 38-16: Pats added Josh Gordon and the over/under is 4. Which could be catches Sunday night, or games played before next suspension. NE got spanked in Jax last week but here’s the thing: The Patriots bounce back. Almost always. They are 45-6 after a loss since 2003, and 5-0 against the spread after a loss the past two seasons. And Tom Brady is on a 9-2 roll on Sunday nights. In BIll Belichick versus Matt Patricia, it will not go well for the mentee.

Steelers (0-1-1, -1 1/2) over @Buccaneers (2-0), 40-23: Monday Night Football gets a good one. Pitt might be scattered mentally, with Le’Veon Bell’s continued holdout and the drama with Antonio Brown. But Tampa has its own soap opera over whether to bench hot QB Ryan Fitzpatrick when Jameis Winston comes off suspension next week. To the game itself, Ben Roethlisberger will feast on the injury-asence of Bucs top CB Vernon Hargreaves, and Steelers’ T.J. Watt-led pass rush will burst Fitzpatrick’s bubble and remind us again why he’s a career journeyman despite the flashes.

HOW THE DARTS LANDED

Continued a solid early-season rollout last week at 10-5-1 straight-up (enough with the ties, already!) and 9-7 against the spread — with the Dolphins’ road upset at Jets grand-marshaling our little parade. We also nailed the Titans’ outright upset of Texans, along with a pair of ‘dogs-with-points in Chiefs and Lions. We’ll take seven-over-.500 ATS two weeks in but we also know that can collapse fast. Time to keep the Big Wheel out of the rurs and rolling! [Note: Thursday night’s pick was Browns (-3) over Jets, 22-17. Find the full prediction capsule here].

Overall; Vs. spread

Week 2 10-5-1 .667; 9-7 .563

Season 20-10-2 .667; 19-12-1 .613

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