GREG COTE’S NFL PLAYOFF PICKS / WILD-CARD WEEKEND
COLTS (10-6, NO. 6 SEED) at TEXANS (11-5, NO. 3)
Line: HOU by 1.
Cote’s pick: HOU 23-20.
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN.
Wild-Card Weekend kicks off with proof bad starts are survivable in the NFL. Indy once was 1-5 and Houston started 0-3 and now both sizzle into January. AFC South rivals split season series, each winning by three on the road, one reason their playoff rematch is a near pick-’em game that opened Texans minus 2 1/2 before diving. The matchup that will tip the result: Can an O line that has protected Andrew Luck very well continue to do so vs. J.J. Watt and a Houston defense that is especially strong at home? And can Lamar Miller get it going vs. a stout Nags run D to ease the burden on Deshaun Watson? Colts have won three of past four over Texans and Indy is a trendy (mini) upset pick here — to a degree Indy feels like the favorite. But I’m riding Houston’s big home defense into the next round.
CHARGERS (12-4, NO. 5 SEED) at RAVENS (10-6, NO. 4)
Line: BAL by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: LAC 27-23.
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
Crows beat Bolts in L.A. 22-10 just two weeks ago, but I’m hunching it swings the other way this time in an upset. Chargers have been an excellent road team (7-1), Philip Rivers has been great, and I think that defense will make it tough on Lamar Jackson, who will be the first rookie to start a playoff game before turning 22. And who has fumbled 12 times in seven games since replacing injured Joe Flacco, who’s healthy again but has lost his job. (By the way, not to jinx him, but Chargers kicker Michael Badgley, the ex-UM Hurricane, is 14 for 14 on field goals inside 50 yards). Baltimore brings elite defense, but I see Chargers as the more balanced all-round team with a higher upside. At its best L.A. is as good as any team in AFC. Our bet is hoping that’s Sunday.
Chiefs (12-4, No. 1 seed): Likely MVP Patrick Mahomes will be home vs. AFC’s surviving lowest seed Jan. 12 at 4:35 p.m. Warning signal: K.C.’s defense gave up the most opponent first downs in entire league.
Patriots (11-5, No 2): Tom Brady will be staying home to play surviving second-lowest seed on Jan. 13 at 1:05 p.m. Pats have won nine straight home playoff games but fast-fading Rob Gronkowski needs to rally.
SEAHAWKS (10-6, NO. 5 SEED) at COWBOYS (10-6, NO. 4)
Line: DAL by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: DAL 24-20
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Fox
Fitting this is the only prime-time matchup of playoffs’ opening weekend, because (not unlike vampires), both these teams own the night. Dallas is 11-3 in its past 14 starts under the lights, and Seattle under Russell Wilson is a mighty 22-5-1 in prime time. Something’s gotta give. A foundation of this pick is venue. Dallas is a great at Jerry’s World (7-1), while Hawks are a mere 4-4 when traveling. Seattle beat the Boys 24-13 in September, but Dallas is appreciably better now — especially since remembering that Ezekiel Elliott needs to be the fulcrum of the offense. Seattle doesn’t hurt itself (plus-15 on turnovers), but that banged-up offensive line could make it rough for Wilson here. With only mild trepidation, give us Dallas at home.
EAGLES (9-7, NO. 6 SEED) at BEARS (12-4, NO. 3)
Line: CHI by 6.
Cote’s pick: CHI 20-17.
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, NBC.
The wonder and stretch-run magic of Nick Foles are being gushed about again as he led the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles’ rally into the playoffs. But that feel-good tale hits a Khalil Mack truck here. Soldier Field in winter can be unkind to visitors, and this Bears defense can be just that for opposing quarterbacks. Chitown’s D leads the NFL in interceptions and is third in sacks, and should steer a low-scoring game that will ease the burden on Mitch Trubisky. I still trust the Bears on offense a little more than I trust the BIrds on D. You had a nice little run, Philly. Somebody else’s turn now. Although having said all that, the bet line feels fat to me, especially with points expected at a premium.
Saints (13-3, No. 1 seed): Drew Brees and mates host the remaining NFC lowest seed Jan. 13 at 4:40 p.m. N’Awlins won it all only other time they held top seed (2009), is betting fave now.
Rams (13-3, No. 2): Sack beast Aaron Donald awaits the remaining second-lowest seed in L.A. on Jan. 12 at 8:15 p.m. Jared Goff will need to solve his recent turnover bug for Rams to go far.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We’ve been doing NFL picks in the Miami Herald since Don Shula and Dan Marino were still rocking Miami. The Patriots quarterback was somebody named “Hugh Millen.” Bill Belichick was a rookie head coach with the Browns. It was 1991 — making this our 28th season of picks. And our best. Ever. Our .705 regular- season winning percentage overall tied our personal best. And our .582 mark against the spread is alone at No. 1, beating the previous record of .574. Not a great finishing kick last week but we still managed to hit on four dogs with points in the Lions, Cowboys, Bears and Bengals. Now we wipe the slate. Playoffs, baby!
Overall; Vs. spread
Week 17: 10-6, .625; 8-8, .500
Season: 179-75-2, .705; 145-104-7, 582