HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We enjoyed a solid showing both ways last week, straight-up and against the spread, including a bull’s-eye on Bears winning at Jets to make us a pristine 3-0 so far on Upset of the Week picks (“Aawwk!”). Nailed a second outright upset call with Chargers winning at Bills, and also had two ‘dogs-with-points in Chiefs covering against Miami and Steelers doing same vs. Carolina. Stay, momentum! Be mine! [Note: Thursday-game pick was Giants (+3.5) over Redskins, 27-24].
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (1-2) vs. RAIDERS (0-3) in London
Line: MIA by 4
Cote’s pick: MIA 23-10
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida)
I could wonder what our trusted ally Great Britain did to deserve an Oakland-Miami game. But that might be snarky. So let’s just say this ninth regular-season NFL game at Wembley Stadium and first of three this year would have been a really exciting matchup if this were, say, 1983. In Week 4 of 2014, the state of the Dolphins after consecutive 19-point losses is such that not even the winless Raiders present a victory that can be assumed. Miami coach Joe Philbin called into question his sanity this week with his mishandling of Ryan Tannehill’s status. There isn’t a coach/QB combo in the league that needs a win more, right now. Miami, by the way, is 12-1 when Tanny’s passer rating is 90-plus, suggesting the team doesn’t need him to be elite-great, just pretty good. This is the right opponent. Oakland has lost nine straight dating to last year, and 10 of past 11 in this series. All eyes may be on Tannehill, but defensive domination will steer this result vs. a meager Raiders offense and rookie QB Derek Carr. Cheerio! (Do Brits actually say that?)
GAME OF THE WEEK
EAGLES (3-0) at 49ERS (1-2)
Line: SF by 5 .5
Cote’s pick: SF 28-24
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida)
There was discord and even brawling within the GOTW committee, with one faction fighting for Saints-Cowboys, but it’s tough to argue against Philly – the only unbeaten team in action Sunday – facing a Niners squad desperate to shake free of consecutive losses. Like Frans pretty solidly outright (Colin Kaepernick is 10-3 as home starter), but the bet-line feels fat. Nick Foles has a 127.8 rating in past seven road games, although line injuries could find him under some duress here. Also, Birds are 5-1 against the spread as road underdogs under coach Chip Kelly. Quick aside to Jim Harbaugh: More carries for Frank Gore, please. More ground game in general.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
SAINTS (1-2) at COWBOYS (2-1)
Line: NO by 3
Cote’s pick: DAL 34-31
TV: 8:20 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida)
“AAAWWWKK!” screams the Upset Bird. “Passes and points will fly. Scoreboard might break. Might braawwk!” Why bother with the pretense of defense in this prime-time shootout? Just let Drew Brees and Tony Romo combine for 90 passes and the first team to 30 points wins. Brees is 7-0 on TDs/picks in past two games vs. ‘Boys, and Romo was 4-0 in last meeting with Saints. Brees is 3-0 in Dallas but N’Awlins has lost five straight regular-season roadies, and Romo is 24-16 in his career covering as an underdog. Counting on DeMarco Murray staying hot. “Prepare for unusual sight on TV,” notes U-Bird. “Jerry Jones up in his suite – smiling. Creepy smile. Creepy smaaawwwk!”
DOG OF THE WEEK
JAGUARS (0-3) at CHARGERS (2-1)
Line: SD by 13
Cote’s pick: SD 30-10
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS
Remember that our Dog of the Week refers to the worst game, not a betting ‘dog, although Blake Bortles’ first career start gives this one a curiosity factor it wouldn’t otherwise have. The odds favor Jags-plus-13. Underdogs of 10 or more points cover 56 percent of time over past 10 years, and Rivers is only 1-8 covering as fave of 13-plus. But watch law of averages kick in on that. Cannot imagine Jax (one of three winless teams with Oakland and Tampa Bay) keeping Rivers from fantasy-pleasing numbers.
PACKERS (1-2) at BEARS (2-1)
Line: GB by 1 .5
Cote’s pick: GB 24-20
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Pretty good Bears make a pretty tempting home ‘dog here, but Chicago is coming off a short week and beat up with injuries. Contrast in QB trends also makes me lean to visiting Gee Bees. Aaron Rodgers has won seven straight starts vs. Chitown; Jay Cutler has 18 interceptions in 10 career meetings with GB. Bonus facts: Win would be Packers’ 700th as franchise, and 106 pass-yards gets Rodgers to 25,000 in 98th game. Only Dan Marino (92 games), Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner (both 97) got there sooner.
BILLS (2-1) at TEXANS (2-1)
Line: HOU by 3
Cote’s pick: HOU 19-17
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Houston QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and Buffalo DT Mario Williams both face their longtime former teams in what feels like a coin-flip game. This pick is especially tough because Texans RB Arian Foster (hamstring) is questionable and a likely game-day decision, a limbo torturing both his fantasy owners and me. HOU run-D worries me in this matchup, but I still make it a venue pick.
TITANS (1-2) at COLTS (1-2)
Line: IND by 7 .5
Cote’s pick: IND 30-17
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Charlie Whitehurst could make fifth career start if Jake Locker (wrist) can’t go, but Locker has struggled this season to a point that might not be all bad for Titans. Either way, I like Indy to win a sixth straight in series and ninth straight division game. TEN outscored 59-17 in consecutive losses, and Ahmad Bradshaw/Trent Richardson should do well vs. Titans subpar run-D.
PANTHERS (2-1) at RAVENS (2-1)
Line: BAL by 3 .5
Cote’s pick: BAL 23-20
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Ravens WR Steve Smith faces his 13-year former team for first time. Here’s a reason to like Baltimore: Joe Flacco’s record at home, when the Ravens are favored, is 38-6 straight up. That’s holding serve, baby! Still, I like Cam Newton’s visiting Cats to bounce back with a better effort than last week vs. Pittsburgh. Running with that extra half-point on the bet-line in what I see as a low-scoring game.
LIONS (2-1) at JETS (1-2)
Line: DET by 1 .5
Cote’s pick: NYJ 24-21
TV: 1 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida)
Yes, I love the matchup of Calvin Johnson vs. a suspect Jets secondary, but I still hunch Planes at home in an upset. Erratic Motown may suffer letdown after beating rival Green Bay, and Lions traditionally not a strong road team, anyway. Plus Rex Ryan is 7-2 covering as a home ‘dog. Low confidence level on this pick – I could as easily see Lions in a rout – but sometimes gut-feeling defeats the rational mind.
BUCCANEERS (0-3) at STEELERS (2-1)
Line: PIT by 7 .5
Cote’s pick: PIT 31-6
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Pitt WR Antonio Brown has 19 straight games with at least five catches for 50 yards, tying the (obscure) NFL record Laveranues Coles set in 2002-03. Not sure if Josh McCown or Mike Glennon will start at QB for the Bucs … or if it matters. Ben Roethlisberger is 16-2 at home vs. NFC teams, and trust me that just about all of them had to have been better than Tampa Bay is right now. Poor Lovie Smith.
FALCONS (2-1) at VIKINGS (1-2)
Line: ATL by 3
Cote’s pick: ATL, 27-19
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox
With Matt Cassel out for the year injured it’s Teddy Bridgewater’s team now, ready or not. That could be the jolt Minnesota needs – a home ‘dog upset here isn’t a bad risk – but I just don’t see enough offense coming from the Purples sans Adrian Peterson. Hard to imagine or bet that the Vikes, with 16 points over past two games, will outscore a Matt Ryan offense that leads league in yards and points.
PATRIOTS (2-1) at CHIEFS (1-2)
Line: NE by 3 .5
Cote’s pick: NE 23-20
TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN (airing in South Florida)
Tom Brady and the Pats’ offense are still trying to find their stride, and I give K-City a major upset shot on a stage (Monday Night Football) that tends to magnify home-field advantage. But I still trust Brady, who is 219 pass-yards from being the sixth man to 50,000. The wild card in this pick is Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, whose availability could be a game-time call. Even with him, KC is not nearly as good as Miami made it appear last week, but just good enough to sneak inside the betting line.
OFF THIS WEEK
(*) BENGALS (3-0; next at Patriots): Unbeaten, balanced Cincy visits New England next Sunday night. Winner claims inside rail to meet Denver in AFC title game.
(*) BRONCOS (2-1; next vs. Cardinals): Have a feeling undefeated ‘Zona will fall back to earth with a thud next week vs. Peyton Manning at Mile High.
(*) BROWNS (1-2; next at Titans): Cleveland at Tennessee. For me the anticipation of it alone makes the spine tingle and the mouth water!
(*) CARDINALS (3-0; next at Broncos): Raise your hand if Cards were one of your picks to be 3-0. Outscoring foes 30-0 in fourth quarter has helped it happen.
(*) RAMS (1-2; next at Eagles): St. Louis choked on a 21-0 lead last week and next they face the Comeback King Birds. No lead will be safe.
(*) SEAHAWKS (2-1; next at Redskins): Seattle will be favorites to repeat as champs (current odds 15-4) as Washington arrives for a Monday nighter.