GREG COTE’S NFL WEEK 15 PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (7-6) at VIKINGS (6-6-1)
Line: MIN by 7 1/2
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Cote’s pick: MIN 23-17
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Huge NFL Week 15 playoff impact here for your holiday season, with Minnesota presently hanging on to the sixth and last NFC seed and Miami in a mad scrum for the same final spot in the AFC. That makes it even on desperation, although Vikes’ is magnified by losses in two straight games and three of past four. The pick here tilts simply and heavily on venue. It did last week in our calling the Dolphins’ home upset of New England, and it does to the other extreme here. Fins are 1-10 in past 11 road games, traveling about as well as a dead body in a trunk, while Vikings are 10-2 in past dozen at home. I’m not a slave to trends, but not blind to ‘em either. See a big and needed home lift for a team that played Monday night and then kneejerk-fired its offensive coordinator. The change should mean better balance (more Dalvin Cook), which will open things up for Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Cousins infamously is 4-24 in his career vs. teams with a winning record, but this will be a lot to handle for a Fins defense likely without injured top CB Xavien Howard again. Also see Vikes’ D as better than Pats’. Having said all that, the betting line is too big. Oddsmakers consistently have disrespected Miami all season, and here’s the latest example.
GAME OF THE WEEK
UPSET OF THE WEEK
PATRIOTS (9-4) at STEELERS (7-5-1)
Line: NE by 2 1/2
Cote’s pick: PIT 31-27
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS
“AAAWWWK!” blurts the Upset Bird. “Another loss for Tom Braawwk and Bill Belichaaawwwk!” Pats still trying to nail down the AFC East title, but Pittsburgh has the more pressing need here, after three losses in a row have rendered postseason hopes dicey. Steelers haven’t been invincible at home, but they’ve been better by the Rivers Tres than Patriots have been on the road (3-4). Pitt also owns the vengeance edge, having lost five in a row to its hated occasional rival. Big Ben Roethlisberger should put up big numbers on NE’s secondary, especially if RB James Conner (ankle) is out again. Tom Brady is 23-1 on TDs/picks vs. Pitt in the Mike Tomlin era, but blitzy Steelers lead NFL in sacks and could make a hectic day for the G.O.A.T. This pick hopes so, at least! Expect a playoff atmosphere. “Belichick keeps sitting bolt-upright at 3 a.m. from a recurring nightmare starring Dolphin Kenyan Drake,” notes U-Bird with a crocodile grin. “Kenyan Draaawwwk!”
THE REST OF WEEK 15
Texans (9-4, -6) over @Jets (4-9), 23-13: Houston’s nine-game win streak and NYJ’s six-game skid both ended last week. Now let’s get back to normal. First of two Saturday should see Lamar Miller running big on Jets and Texans pass rush getting to Sam Darnold. Houston clinches division with win if Colts and Titans both lose.
@Broncos (6-7, -2 1/2) over Browns (5-7-1), 20-17: Cleveland has elevated from abysmal to respectable but still is 1-24 in past 25 road games, and Mile High in December is unwelcoming to visitors. Watch Bradley Chubb and Von Miller make it tough for Baker Mayfield in this later of two Saturday games.
@Falcons (4-9, -8 1/2) over Cardinals (3-10), 38-13: It’s the Misery Bowl, one of three games with neither team having a playoff prayer -- and the saddest, because Atlanta was supposed to be good. Well, at least Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson should be fun. Hunch Falcons take out their frustrations here.
@Bills (4-9, -2 1/2) over Lions (5-8), 21-16: Freezing temps in the single-digits figures as a clear edge for Bison on the home tundra. Injuries have ruined what Matthew Stafford used to have to work with, and Bills, with dual-threat Josh Allen and a decent defense, are better than the record.
@Bears (9-4, -6) over Packers (5-7-1), 28-14: You know you want to. But resist! You know you want to convince yourself that Aaron Rodgers is about to summon all of his misplaced magic and lead a huge upset by the barely breathing Pack. Don’t. The Gee Bees are 0-6 on the road this year. Da Bears are 6-1 at The Soldier. Beyond that, Packers have owned Bears for a long time, including 21 wins in past 25 games in Chicago. Expect a huge times-have -changed statement game by Chicago, especially its defense.
@Bengals (5-8, -2 1/2) over Raiders (3-10), 34-30: It’s Marvin (How Am I Still Employed) Lewis vs. Jon (Why’d I Leave The TV Booth?) Gruden and two awful defenses in what could be the most uninteresting shootout in history. Oakland is 1-5 on the road and 5-23 in its past 28 trips this far east.
@Colts (7-6, -3) over Cowboys (8-5), 27-23: Quality matchup with two hot teams and with playoff-race heft as Cowboys try to clinch division with win (or with Eagles and Skins losses), and Indy fights in that same scrum of 7-6ers with Miami. Dallas is much better at Jerry’s World than away, and I like Andrew Luck against Cows secondary. Indy also presents pretty stout run-D to Ezekiel Elliott.
Titans (7-6, +1 1/2) over @Giants (5-8), 23-20: Toughest call of the week for me. Was going back and forth like eyeballs at a tennis match. Both have won two in a row. Would the venue neutralize Titans being better all-round? Ultimately I’m rolling dice on Tenners’ top-five defense limiting Saquon Barkley. Upset!
@Jaguars (4-9, -7 1/2) over Redskins (6-7), 23-16: Swooning Redskins are Washing-done, having lost four straight and down to fourth-string QB Josh Johnson making his first start since 2011. But hunch Skins-with-points after season Jax has had and the way they tackled (or didn’t) last week.
@Ravens (7-6, -7 1/2) over Buccaneers (5-8), 27-17: The team that has the No. 6 AFC seed that Miami wants is sticking with Lamar Jackson at QB even thought Joe Flacco is healthy. More pertinently, Ravens with with defense first. Bucs tempt against spread getting this many, but TB is 1-12 in past 13 outright as road underdogs.
Seahawks (8-5, -4) over @49ers (3-10), 24-13: Hot Seattle sits pretty for NFC wild-card spot but is coming off short week, and facing letdown after dominating Vikes. Still, after Hawks clubbed Niners 43-16 just a few weeks ago, the bet-line seems modest. Seattle clinches playoff berth with win and has beaten SF 10 times in a row.
@Rams (11-2, -11) over Eagles (6-7), 27-20: Rams clinch first-round bye with a win if Bears lose. Betting line for this Sunday nighter rose crazy-high in part because it looks like Nick Foles will start for Carson Wentz (back issues). But Foles is capable, and Birds bring that wounded-pride thing as humbled reigning champs. Give me Phils-plus-11.
Saints (11-2, -6 1/2) over @Panthers (6-7), 24-20: Monday nights get a good one. Saints clinch first-round bye with win if Bears lose, and are 6-1 on road. Panthers are desperate to run the table, and are 5-1 at home. Carolina has an upset in it in rivalry like this one. Cats won’t outscore Drew Brees but will keep it inside the bet-line.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Pinch me. (But not that hard!) My dream season continues. Went 12-4 straight-up last week and 8-8 against the spread. I’ve had seasons where a .500 week ATS would have had me doing backflips. This year it’s a disappointment. Still, we bull’s-eyed yet another Upset of the Week pick with Dolphins over Patriots (“Aawwk!”), which I’d have had against the spread even without the Miami Miracle finish. Also hit two other outright upsets (Browns-Panthers, Bears-Rams), and had Raiders-with-points over Steelers. Home stretch, folks. Let’s keep it going! [Note: Thursday night pick was Chiefs (-3 1/2) over Chargers, 34-27. Visit Thursday Gem for the full prediction capsule].
Overall; Vs. spread
Week 14 — 12-4, .750; 8-8, .500
Season — 143-63-2, .694; 117-84-7, .582