GREG COTE’S NFL WEEK 14 PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
UPSET OF THE WEEK
PATRIOTS (9-3) at DOLPHINS (6-6)
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Line: NE by 7 1/2
Cote’s pick: MIA 27-23
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird. “Deck the halls with sacks of Brady, fa la la la la, la la la laaawwwk!” New England can clinch the AFC East title with a win here, but keep that champagne corked a bit longer, Pats. Yes, I know. In the broadest view the Patriots have been the division master with the Dolphins on their leash for a long time, including a 38-7 beatdown up there in Week 4. But this rivalry swings distinctly with the home field lately. The home team is on an 11-1 series run, and the Fins have beaten the Pats four of the past five in Miami, where the genius seems to often elude Bill Belichick and where Tom Brady isn’t always the G.O.A.T. The Superman Pats also have tended to be Clark Kent on the road this year, 3-3 away from Foxborough with all three losses by double digits — while Miami is impressively taking care of business (5-1) at The Rock. Makes me love the Dolphins getting 7 1/2 points and like them enough outright to pull the trigger. One hesitation: Miami’s rising-star cornerback Xavien Howard, NFL leader with seven interceptions, is very iffy with a knee injury. That’s big. No-Howard would make it that much more likely that Brady gets the TD pass he needs to break a tie (579) with Peyton Manning for most ever, including playoffs. But offsetting the possible Howard absence somewhat is that Ryan Tannehill hopes to have his security blanket Danny Amendola back from injury to face his former team. This call is a major upset that doesn’t feel like one thanks to the the series trends. More size-XXL incentive for Miami: Fins would elevate into a tie for playoff pace with a win here if Ravens lose at Kansas City as expected. “Cannot get the visual from my mind of Belichick on the sideline dressed as Clark Kent,” notes U-Bird. “Miaaawwwk!”
GAME OF THE WEEK
RAMS (11-1) at BEARS (8-4)
Line: LAR by 3
Cote’s pick: CHI 31-27
TV: 8:20 p.m., NBC
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are fist-bumping and dancing a jig over this Sunday nighter. I mean, wow. A Super Bowl favorite that’s 5-1 on the road vs. a 5-1 home team that has something to prove and gets QB Mitchell Trubisky back from injury. Two of the NFL’s great defensive forces in Rams’ Aaron Donald and Bears’ Khalil Mack. A great L.A. offense vs. a Chitown D capable of dominating. Rams, already NFC West champs, can clinch first-round bye with win, but don’t count on that here. The expected return of Trubisky from a two-game absence — on which this pick relies — adds elements to the Bears offense that will exploit a Rams defense that hasn’t been anything special lately. Upset!
THE REST OF WEEK 14
@Bills (4-8, -3 1/2) over Jets (3-9), (4-8), 24-13: Planes expect to have QB Sam Darnold back from three games out, a clear upgrade from lousy Josh McCown, but still make this a venue call. Pinwheeling in a free fall, NYJ has lost 10 of past 11 road games including 1-5 this year. And (as Dolphins found out last week and were lucky to survive), dual-threat Josh Allen can make Buffs tough to handle.
@Browns (4-7-1, +2) over Panthers (6-6), 23-20: Upset! Once-purring Cats have lost four in a row and are 1-5 on the road, while Earthtones have won three of past four as they return to Dawg Pound. Cleveland’s pass D is up to whatever Cam Newton is dealing.
@Packers (4-7-1, -5) over Falcons (4-8), 34-23: Misery Bowl matches two of NFC’s (and league’s) colossal disappointments, with Pack playing first game since coach Mike McCarthy got abruptly fired and our old friend Joe Philbin took over. Don’t like dome-team Falcons playing in 20-degree temps, and see big bounceback game for Gee Bees after embarrassing home loss to Arizona. Aaron Rodgers has 336 straight passes with no picks and guns for Tom Brady’s NFL record of 358.
@Chiefs (10-2, -6 1/2) over Ravens (7-5), 27-17: KC, 5-0 at home, clinches playoff ticket with a win and should get it, in a result that would aid Miami’s postseason hopes. Crows’ defense might keep it close, and Chiefs offense can’t but suffer from release of star RB Kareem Hunt over a domestic violence video. But still see Arrowhead gang as at least a TD better.
Saints (10-2, -8) over @Buccaneers (5-7), 34-30: Why’s the over/under a sky-scraping 56? How about a 48-40 Week 1 meeting, won by Bucs despite Drew Brees’ huge game? Tampa has won two straight behind Jameis Winston and improved defense and look good to cover a big spread. Won’t beat Brees, though, as Saints clinch division with win or a Carolina loss.
Giants (4-8, -3 1/2) over @Redskins (6-6), 20-17: Washington breaks the emergency glass and hauls Mark Sanchez (!) out of retirement but Colin Kaepernick still can’t find work. Do I have that right? Venue and rivalry make this a tough call, but teams are trending oppositely. Take the hotter and healthier of the two, but hedge with that half-point on the bet-line.
@Texans (9-3, -4 1/2) over Colts (6-6), 31-16: Houston has won nine in a row (next-best current streak is four) and will clinch division with win if Tennessee loses Thursday. Indy is 3-12 in past 15 road games. Hot Deshaun Watson will take blowtorch to Nags’ secondary.
@Chargers (9-3, -14) over Bengals (5-7), 45-6: Playoff-bound Bolts have won eight of past nine and Philip Rivers is facing perhaps NFL’s worst defense. Packin’-it-in Cincy has Jeff Driskel at QB and no A.J. Green. Ugly here we come.
Broncos (6-6, -4) over @49ers (2-10), 23-13: Denver has won three in row to climb into AFC playoff picture, and brings a pass rush that will be a nightmare for erratic 49ers QB Nick Mullen, who’ll be missing top RB Matt Breida.
@Cowboys (7-5, -3 1/2) over Eagles (6-6), 24-20: Tasty rivalry-renewal for the NFC East lead finds Dallas 5-1 at Jerry’s World and Philly back from the dead (sort of) with two wins in a row — and a big upset shot here. Eagles tend strong in-division (10-2 run) and can win if they avoid the turnovers that kill them, but hot ‘Boys at home are the safer play.
Steelers (7-4-1, -11) over @Raiders (2-10), 31-23: Steelers coming off emotional 33-30 collapse-loss to Chargers, and hosting Patriots next. And quietly in between come the 2-10 Raiders. Time for Dave Wannstedt to hang lobster traps in the Pittsburgh lockerroom! Steelers should shed two-game losing streak (even missing RB James Conner), but like improved-lately Raiders with points.
Lions (4-8, -3) over @Cardinals (3-9), 17-13: Feels like more of a pick-’em game. ‘Zona somehow won at Lambeau last week but don’t see a repeat performance. Motown’s coalescing defensive front should dominate a Cardbirds O-line that’s a hot-mess shambles.
@Seahawks (7-5, -3) over Vikings (6-5-1), 24-20: Monday gets a quality NFC matchup of teams currently on playoff pace, but not by a lot. ‘Hawks on a neat little three game roll and have won four of past five at home over Vikes. Russell Wilson’s offense averaging 33.8 points over past four games.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Our season continues to soar with the happy majesty of Santa’s sleigh gliding above rooftops. This is our 28th year of NFL picks and might be our best all-round, but the so far is emphasized. Stretch run ahead. Last week’s 11-5 mark straight-up and 10-5-1 against the point spread (Dolphins’ 4 -point win pushed for the tie) has our season totals knocking at 70 and 60 percent. Nailed yet another Upset of the Week with Jags handling Colts (“Aawwk!”), scored a mini-upset with Ravens winning in Atlanta, and had a big four ‘dogs-with-polnts in Cardinals, Giants, Bucs and Jets. Pedal to the metal. Checkered flag in view! [Note: Thursday night pick was Titans (-4) over Jaguars, 16-13. Visit Thursday Gem for the full prediction capsule].
Overall; Vs. spread
Week 13: 11-5, .688; 10-5-1, .667
Season: 131-59-2, .689; 109-76-7, .589