GREG COTE’S NFL WEEK 1 PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
UPSET OF THE WEEK
RAVENS (0-0) at DOLPHINS (0-0)
Line: BAL by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: MIA 23-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
“AAAWWWK!” shrieks the Upset Bird, ushering in the 2019 season with a big-bang pick. “Tanking schmanking. Aawwk!” OK, here’s the thing. Repeat after me: “The Miami Dolphins will not be as bad as you think.” I am about the only media-ite saying this — locally or nationally. The view is kind of scary from way up here out on the limb, but that’s all right. Imagine being the Dolphins right now. You spend the whole offseason and preseason hearing and reading about how lousy you are. About tanking and no talent and eve-of-season trades that diminished that talent even further in the name of rebuilding and draft capital. Well, there are two ways to respond. 1). With dejection, dissension and self defeat. Or 2). The way I see Miami responding on Sunday, which is to show that this maligned, mocked, written-off team is very capable of winning five to seven games in a parity-soaked league. So, yeah, give me the home-’dog upset on a hunch here. Dolphins were 6-2 at home last season and have the anger and intangible edge here. More tangibly, Baltimore had some key free agency losses on defense, and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kenyan Drake — even behind a mishmash O-line — could have opportunities. Also think Miami’s defensive line depth and secondary will come through Sunday against the big challenge of dual-threat Lamar Jackson. Yes, this pick is a big swing that could miss badly, but, like the Black Eyed Peas in 2009, I gotta feeling. “Fergie! Dolphins limited ownership partner! Thataway to tie it all together,” notes a grinning, nodding Upset Bird. “Tank schmank. AAWWK!”
GAME OF THE WEEK
STEELERS (0-0) at PATRIOTS (0-0)
Line: NE by 6.
Cote’s pick: NE 34-27.
TV: 8:20 p.m., NBC.
Season’s first Sunday nighter fittingly gets the Game of the Week and the reigning champion Patriots. There is an argument for Pittsburgh here (and thus for a great game). Steelers beat Pats at home 17-10 last December, and have done a fabulous job hardly missing Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown at all. Tom Brady moves on without Gronk but will miss injured center David Andrews even more. There is a big chance the Steelers’ rush will really bother Brady. On the other hand: It’s Bill Belichick and Brady. At home. In prime time. There is magic at Foxborough. Have you not heard? Nuevo England has won nine of past 10 home openers and is on a 16-0 run (13-3 against the spread) as home favorites. The most stress-free play in the NFL is Pats at home. By the way, these two teams are 1-2 in NFL wins over the past 10 seasons, but the Pats are a big 20 better, 123-103. Until you hear otherwise, continue to trust Brady and the Pats at home more than you trust your best friend.
THE REST OF WEEK 1:
@Browns (0-0, -5 1/2) over Titans (0-0), 23-13: Cleveland has a 14-game winless streak (0-13-1) in season openers, but these are the New Browns. Right? Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. Are you kidding? Browns fans haven’t been this happy since Jim Brown’s 1964. Watch Earthtones’ pass rush overwhelm a Titans O-line missing suspended Taylor Lewan, and remind us all that Marcus Mariota still isn’t very good.
@Vikings (0-0, -3 1/2) over Falcons (0-0), 27-20: Julio Jones (foot) seems go to go for Birds, but still like Minny taking care of biz at home. Vikes have won 11 of past 14 at home vs. ATL, and a healthy Dalvin Cook along with a beefed-up blocking front will make life easier for Kirk Cousins. Purples also bring a top-five defense to test the air-first tendencies of Matt Ryan.
@Jets (0-0, -3) over Bills (0-0), 19-17: Beware: Favorite in this series has lost seven of past eight. Like Planes at home, anyway, but hedging with Buffs and the points in what should be a defensive grudge. Josh Allen has few weapons, but Bills play stout D. Sam Darnold finished last season strong, and Le’Veon Bell will help. Fidgety, bug-eyed Adam Gase leaves smiling.
@Eagles (0-0, -10) over Redskins (0-0), 34-10: Carson Wentz, healthy and with Nick Foles no longer breathing down his neck, has no excuses now, while in Skinsville it’s a matter of time until Dwayne Haskins gets the call. Washers are way down, and holdout/impasse with LT Trent Williams doesn’t help. Phils on a 16-4 run at home. Skins’ streak of three straight wins in road openers ends with a thud.
@Panthers (0-0, +2 1/2) over Rams (0-0), 27-24: Upset! (“Aawwk!”) The pick presumes Cam Newton starts and is unbothered by his recent foot injury. Rams face the Super Bowl loser Hangover Effect, especially after a preseason in which key players (Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and more) did not play a single snap. Hmm. Venue call.
Chiefs (0-0, -3 1/2) over @Jaguars (0-0), 24-20: Tough road test to open for a KC squad many sportsbooks have as Super Bowl favorite and who I slotted No. 1 in my preseason team rankings. Jalen Ramsey on Tyreek Hill might be best of all Week 1 matchups. Jax’s strong defense and upgrade at QB with Nick Foles makes for a tempting home ‘dog. Resist, though!
@Chargers (0-0, -6 1/2) over Colts (0-0), 23-17: Do not write off the Colts! Yes, Andrew Unlucky’s shocking retirement rocked the franchise, and the falloff to Jacoby Brissett is large. But Indy has enough left to be playoff-hunting (and to cover here). Philip Rivers, making his 209th consecutive start (third all-time for a QB), will feel the continuing holdout of RB Melvin Gordon.
@Seahawks (0-0, -10) over Bengals (0-0), 38-9: Seattle has won a league-best 10 consecutive home openers (14 consecutive September homies), and sad Cincy is one of the teams battling Miami for the No. 1 overall draft pick; plus A.J. Green is out. Ryan Finley should supplant Andy Dalton by season’s end. Hawks’ D adds Jadeveon Clowney, and Russell Wilson has a field day.
@Cowboys (0-0, -7 1/2) over Giants (0-0), 24-17: Ezekiel Elliott got his $90 million extension and should start Sunday, although I would be surprised if his workload is heavy. No matter. Biggies are biding time until Daniel Jones bumps Eli. NYG doesn’t have a lot beyond fantasy stud Saquon Barkley. Dallas has won four in a row in rivalry. Make it five, but hunch it inside the bet line.
@Cardinals (0-0, +2 1/2) over Lions (0-0), 31-27: Upset! (“Aawwk!”) Pick is a venue call reflecting distrust in Lions as much as anything. Arizona is consigned by most to NFL dregs territory, but I see potential for an interesting offense under new coach Kliff Kingsbury, rookie Kyler Murray and a healthy David Johnson. BTW, Murray makes this 12th straight year at least one rook QB has started Opening Week.
@Buccaneers (0-0, -1) over 49ers (0-0), 23-20: Venue call on a near-pick ‘em game. I see Bruce Arians as a positive coach hire for Tampa and something of a quarterback whisperer to move forward the lurching career of Jameis Winston. On the other side, Frans were 0-8 on road last season. I’m not sold on Jimmy Garopollo, and the preseason did nothing to change my mind.
@Saints (0-0, -6 1/2) over Texans (0-0), 34-23: Game of the Week first alternate? Drew Brees, a stout offensive line and mucho weapons makes N’Aawlins nearly a 30-point guarantee, especially at home. Deshaun Watson has less to work with after DeAndre Hopkins. Injury-loss of RB Lamar Miller really hurts, and Texans O-line even with Laremy Tunsil still figures to struggle against Saints’ rush.
Broncos (0-0, -2 1/2) over @Raiders (0-0), 24-16: Give me Denver’s defense in a pick ‘em game. I thought even before Thursday’s news that Antonio (Drama King) Brown likely faced suspension over a tiff with GM Mike Mayock. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will be all over (and through) OAK’s subpar front wall, and Joe Flacco has a chance to put on an I-ain’t-done-yet show vs. Jon Gruden’s secondary. Broncs win an eighth straight opener.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
In 1972 the Dolphins were perfect. There was quite literally nowhere to go but down. In 2018 Patrick Mahomes introduced himself with a 50-touchdown MVP season. For him, too, the bar was set so crazy high as to make a falloff seem inevitable. Welcome to me and this season of NFL picks. This is our 29th year doing this and last season we set all-time personal bests for overall winning percentage (.705) and success against the point spread (.582). Perspective: We began these picks in 1991. Marino and Shula, Duper and Clayton — all still around. “The Silence of the Lambs” was creeping everybody out. So we’ve been at this awhile, and never had a season like last year. Can we keep the magic going? Join us on the ride and let’s find out together! [Note: Thursday night pick was @Bears (-3) over Packers, 24-20. Full pick capsule here].
Overall; Vs. spread
Final 2018 — 179-75-2, .705; 145-104-7, .582