Xavien Howard wanted to make Pro Bowl since rookie year.
GREG COTE’S WEEK 16 NFL PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
JAGUARS (4-10) at DOLPHINS (7-7)
Line: MIA by 4
Cote’s pick: MIA 24-13
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Example No. 438 of how little faith there is in Miami: The Dolphins are favored by a mere one point above standard home-field advantage over a colossally disappointing Jacksonville team that has lost nine of its past 10 games. Oh, and that’s with Jaguars 1-5 on the road while Fins are a stout 6-1 at home. And with Miami still fighting on the periphery of playoff contention while Jags are mentally headed to the first tee. An insult, this 4-point line! QB Blake Bortles was bad enough for Jax to bench him but Cody Kessler has been worse. By a lot. Kessler has led one touchdown drive in 31 possessions over three games since taking over, yet will start again. Ryan Tannehill is sure to look great Sunday if only in contrast to his counterpart’s epic putridity. That is Miami’s secret weapon on Sunday: The other team’s QB. Dolphins also figure to have top cornerback (and lone Pro Bowl pick) Xavien Howard back from injury. Jaguars’ only real hope is to feed Leonard Fournette enough carries to reduce chances for Kessler to do something dumb. As for my earlier putting “Miami” and “playoff contention” in the same sentence, it’s win-out-and-pray for the Fins. Closing at Buffalo next week won’t be easy. Neither will getting sufficient help from a confluence of other results all falling just right. But beating Jax and Cody Kessler at home? This should be the easy part of what’s left. Call it a little consolation parting gift for fans in the home finale of yet another ultimately unfulfilling Dolphins season.
GAME OF THE WEEK
STEELERS (8-5-1) at SAINTS (12-2)
Line: NO by 5 1/2
Cote’s pick: NO 31-23
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Drew Brees alone gives this one GOTW cred. An airborne shootout looms. High stakes, too. Saints clinch No. 1 NFC seed with a win, and it’ll be big either way for Steelers — with Saturday’s Ravens-Chargers result determining which way. If Ravens lose, Steelers can clinch division with a win. But if Ravens win, Steelers might need to win just to stay on playoff pace. It’s also a great matchup because N’Awlins is decidedly better at home, while Pittsburgh is a strong traveling team on a 10-2-1 run away from Heinz. Steelers expect to have RB James Conner back from injury, and Saints’ offense has been tepid the past three games. But still hunching a big show by the Fleur-de-lis at home.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
RAVENS (8-6) at CHARGERS (11-3)
Line: LAC by 4 1/2
Cote’s pick: BAL 23-20
TV: 8:20 p.m. Saturday, NFL
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, Crows defense all the waaawwwk!” Saturday’s prime-time game is a good one. Chargers are still chasing the No. 1 AFC seed, but that’s a luxury to the Ravens’ need, with Baltimore hanging onto the sixth and last AFC playoff ticket. This would be a big upset if I hit it — especially with Bolts set to get both RB Melvin Gordon and WR Keenan Allen back from injury. But I trust the Baltimore defense that much, and Ravens are 4-1 since injured Joe Flacco gave way to Lamar Jackson, whose running really opens up that attack. Also, L.A.’s last three wins have been by a combined nine points. Nothing invincible there. “Need a couple of picks from Philip Rivers,” notes U-Bird. ”Philip Raaawwwk!”
THE REST OF WEEK 16
@Titans (8-6, -10 1/2) over Redskins (7-7), 20-17: Saturday’s early game is the first of five double-digit point spreads in Week 16. Cannot recall there ever being that many. And this line is crazy-big for what should be a points-shy game. Titans are 5-1 at home, and RB Derrick Henry is en fuego, but Skins will keep inside the bet-line.
@Browns (6-7-1, -10) over Bengals (6-8), 27-20: Earthtones beat ‘Gals 35-20 in Week 12 and rematch finds Cleveland on a 4-1 run and Cincy having dropped seven of past nine games. Line opened at seven and shot north with Browns Fever, but, in a rivalry like this, hunch recently woeful Bengals will find a way to stay close.
@Cowboys (8-6, -7 1/2) over Buccaneers (5-9), 31-13: Dallas is 6-1 at home and locks up NFC East with a win. Tampa is 1-6 on road, 1-11 all-time at Dallas, and out of playoffs for an 11th straight season. See a big bounceback home win by ‘Boys after last week’s aberrant shutout loss to Indy.
Vikings (7-6-1, -5 1/2) over @Lions (5-9), 28-13: Minnesota defense crushed Matthew Stafford with 10 sacks (!) in teams’ first meeting, and look for more of same. Vikes also better now with more balance, more Dalvin Cook. Game means nada to Lions and everything to a Viking squad sitting sixth in scrum for six NFC playoff tickets.
@Colts (8-6, -10) over Giants (5-9), 27-20: Colts’ surge to playoff contention after a 1-5 start has been one of NFL’s season neat little stories. And it isn’t just Andrew Luck’s big comeback -- it’s that Indy has found a defense! I do think NYG-plus-10 is a fair play, especially if you’re rolling dice that day-to-day Odell Beckham will play.
@Patriots (9-5, -13) over Bills (5-9), 38-13: New England is 6-0 at home and won 13 straight at Gillette.. Tom Brady is 29-3 vs. Buffalo, including 25-6 in first meeting. Pats have not lost three games in a row since 2002. NE bags its 10th straight division title with win. Josh Gordon quitting Pats to deal with his mental health is big, but ought not matter much here.
Packers (5-8-1, -3) @Jets (4-10), 30-20: Pack have lost four of past five and are 0-7 away, facing their first 0-for-road season in, like, six decades. These would be reasons to like the home team if the home team were any good. Instead, I like Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams vs. a beatable Planes secondary.
@Eagles (7-7, -2 1/2) over Texans (10-4), 20-17: Houston clinches division with win but Philly’s playoff hopes more desperately need this game. One of toughest calls of week for me. The two defensive fronts could give Deshaun Watson and Nick Foles trouble, suggesting a low score. I make it a venue call, with Birds 9-2 in past 11 at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Falcons (5-9, -3 1/2) over @Panthers (6-8), 27-24: Yes, Carolina has shut down Cam Newton and Taylor Heinicke will make his first NFL start. But even with Newton the Cats have lost six straight and five of the past six vs. Falcons. I’ll hedge and say heavy doses of Christian McCaffrey keep it inside the bet-line, but like Matt Ryan vs. mediocre Carolina pass-D.
Rams (11-3, -14) over @Cardinals (3-11), 24-13: Rams, chasing first-round bye, pounded ‘Zona 34-0 in Week 2, and Cardbirds slide into rematch with a 1-6 home record. But: L.A. isn’t as dominant as it was earlier in season, Jared Goff has been really bad past three games, and Todd Gurley is questionable to play. Makes Cacti a reasonable home ‘dog risk getting two TDs.
Bears (10-4, -4) over @49ers (4-10), 23-16: Chicago risks a letdown after clinching division last week, but still is chasing a first-round bye. Niners (say this much) have been decent at home. But four points isn’t a ton for Bears to cover, and that mighty defense of theirs should make it rough for Nick Mullens.
@Seahawks (8-6, +2 1/2) over Chiefs (11-3), 31-28: Upset! Sunday night gets a big one. KC is still trying to nail down a first-round bye, while Seattle more urgently needs a win as it tries to earn a playoff ticket. Chiefs are only 2-2 in past four games, and Seahawks have a great track record in prime time. That stadium, at night, and amped-up ‘Hawks will majorly challenge Patrick Mahomes.
@Raiders (3-11, +2 1/2) over Broncos (6-8), 21-20: Upset! Monday nighter could be Raiders’ final game at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum if team can’t work out deal with city for ‘19. That emotional lift could mean something. I worry about Von Miller and Bradley Chubb getting to Derek Carr, but I just have a gut feeling about this one.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
If I could pinpoint the formula to this season of mine, I’d patent it, bottle it and be richer than Jeff Bezos. After 11-5s both straight-up and against the spread last week we’re making a run at 70 percent overall for the season and knocking on the door of 60% vs. the betting line -- 39 games above .500! We bull’s-eyed yet another Upset of the Week last week with Steelers over Patriots (“Aawwk!”), nailed a second outright upset with Titans winning at Giants, and had a pair of ‘dogs-with-;points in Redskins and Eagles. Don’t wake me, please. Dreams like this don’t come around very often.
Overall; Vs. spread
▪ Week 15: 11-5, .688; 11-5, .688
▪ Season: 154-68-2, .694; 128-89-7, .590