HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Our best week of the season overall and another winning mark against the point spread will find no complaint from me. Wait. I lied. One small complaint: So I’m looking at 5-0 on Upset of the Week picks because the Bears are up 21-7 at Carolina and still leading into the final period and then … CHI’s fourth-quarter drives are punt-punt-pick-fumble-fumble. You hurt me, Cutler. Bad. Nevertheless, the bigger picture was brighter. I called Pats’ upset of Cincy and came within one point of an exact score on Seahawks-Skins. And so I say it once again: Stay, momentum. Be mine! (Note: Thursday game pick was Texans (+2 ½) over Colts, 27-24).
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK / UPSET OF THE WEEK
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PACKERS (3-2) at DOLPHINS (2-2)
Line: GB by 3 ½
Cote’s pick: MIA 27-24
TV: 1 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida)
“AAWWK!” trills the Upset Bird. “Miamaaawwwk!” Rare for Dolphins to be involved in one of our Upset of the Week picks, let alone in a starring role, but in this case we like the team that is home, coming off a bye week, and getting more complete with the return of Mike Pouncey, Reshad Jones and (maybe) Knowshon Moreno. I know I blaspheme to not curtsy to the greatness of Aaron Rodgers, who in his past four games has 11 TDs, zero picks and a 124.4 rating. Mr. Discount Double Check will get his yards, but Miami will find other ways to win, such as controlling the ball and clock on the ground to limit Rodgers’ opportunities. What if I told you the Gee Bees’ defense ranks last in NFL allowing 163 rushing yards per game? (I think I just did tell you). Cheesers’ pass-D is stout, though, so pressure will be on Ryan Tannehill to reprise the efficiency and accuracy he displayed in London. Am already picturing it: Joe Philbin, the nine-year Packers assistant, being carried triumphantly off the field by jubilant Fins players, later being asked how he felt at that heart-tugging moment, and stoically replying, “I need to look at the film first.” “Ha. Good one,” says U-Bird, beak split in a crocodile grin. “Philbaaawwwk!”
GAME OF THE WEEK
GIANTS (3-2) at EAGLES (4-1)
Line: PHI by 2½
Cote’s pick: PHI 34-30
TV: 8:30 P.M., NBC (airing in South Florida)
Cowboys-Seahawks also had some Week 6 support from the GOTW committee, but it’s hard to deny this NFC East rivalry on a prime-time stage, in a series that has seesawed pretty evenly lately. The matchup turned vital because NYG has resurrected itself with three straight wins, scoring 105 points led by resurgent Eli Manning. But Birds can beat you in all three phases, with seven return TDs already, and with Nick Foles appreciably better at home and on a 7-0 run there. Result could swing on who answers their RB question better: How much will Rashad Jennings’ absence hurt Biggies? And can Phils finally get LeSean McCoy untracked? An outright upset tempts us in this even matchup that could bust the scoreboard, but, when in doubt, stay home. (Especially in night games).
DOG OF THE WEEK
JAGUARS (0-5) at TITANS (1-4)
Line: TEN by 6
Cote’s pick: TEN 20-16
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
You know our Dog refers to the worst game of the week, not a betting ‘dog, and a combined 1-9 record qualifies almost every time. King Sport has no unbeaten teams left, but Jax and Oakland still wave the winless banner. Jaguars see 0-16 beckoning from the horizon. Titans are staring at this: Only six 1-4 teams have gone on to make the playoffs in the past 25 years. Tenners trying to rebound from worst home collapse in NFL history last week (blowing a 28-3 lead), while Jax D played Steelers pretty tough. Titans could be without QB Jake Locker again. See Jags staying winless but covering the bet-line.
RAVENS (3-2) at BUCCANEERS (1-4)
Line: BAL by 3
Cote’s pick: BAL 24-16
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
The Bucs are 0-2 at home and have given up 117 points in past three games. Crows are vulnerable enough to make you think hard about the home ‘dog here; it’s just that Tampa – penalty-hounded and with 11 turnovers – always seems to find a way to be its own worst enemy. Quick aside to BAL coach John Harbaugh: Get back to your running game.
BRONCOS (3-1) at JETS (1-4)
Line: DEN by 8½
Cote’s pick: DEN 28-17
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Peyton Manning, coming off a career-best 479-yard game and still magical at age 38, is facing a Jets defense ranked 30th with a 107.5 opponents passer rating. Peyton didn’t fare so well his previous time in this stadium; it was the Super Bowl vs. Seattle. This time should be better. Rex Ryan admits his job may be in jeopardy as he rides Geno Smith to the unemployment line. Well, no duh, buddy! This won’t help.
LIONS (3-2) at VIKINGS (2-3)
Line: DET by 1½
Cote’s pick: MIN 19-17
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Looks like Lion Calvin Johnson (ankle), who’s been torturing his fantasy owners, might finally sit one out, while Vikes get back the spark of rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater. I like that combo fashioning a small home-’dog upset here, despite the fact Detroit signed a guy (Matt Prater) who can actually kick a field goal. Lions never been a great road team, and Purples have won three of past four in series.
PATRIOTS (3-2) at BILLS (3-2)
Line: NE by 3
Cote’s pick: BUF 24-23
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
This is first time since 2008 these teams have met this late in a season when both had winning records. In other words, the Bills don’t stink for a change. Pats have owned this series, winning 25 of past 27 including five straight while averaging 39 points. But things have changed. NE isn’t as good, despite last week’s revival, and Buffs are better. It isn’t that I’m sold on Kyle Orton, it’s that Bison have the sackers to greatly disturb Tom Brady’s pocket. Which he doesn’t like. At all!
PANTHERS (3-2) at BENGALS (3-1)
Line: CIN by 7
Cote’s pick: CIN 30-20
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Cincy figures to be without WR A.J. Green (toe), but the ‘Gals get back from injury their defensive leader, the splendidly named Vontaze Burfict. That’s a fair swap. Bengals’ very good pass D could make it tough for Cam Newton, whose running game is in battered disarray. Cincy will be smarting to rebound from that embarrassing loss to Pats by winning a 12th straight regular-season home game.
STEELERS (3-2) at BROWNS (2-2)
Line: CLE by 2
Cote’s pick: PIT 24-20
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Browns’ four games have been decided by 11 total points, meaning they could as easily be 4-0 or 0-4 as 2-2. Meaning this is a REALLY tough game to predict. Cleveland getting much credit for last week’s record rally at Tennessee, but the flip side of that is that Earthtones were trailing a bad team 28-3. Dawg Pounders’ run game will test Pitt’s D, but in Big Ben I trust in this series. Roethlisberger is 18-1 in his career vs. CLE and pitched for 365 yards in a 30-27 season opening win. He’ll find a way.
CHARGERS (4-1) at RAIDERS (0-4)
Line: SD by 7
Cote’s pick: SD 23-17
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida)
Our old friend Tony Sparano, Oakland’s interim coach, took a shovel and ceremoniously buried a football in front of his team to symbolize a fresh start. (How cute!) Now the Chargers will bury Sparano in his debut. Raiders have lost 10 consecutive games overall and six straight at home, and Philip Rivers isn’t exactly a get-well card. He has four straight games with a 120-plus passer rating. Only Johnny Unitas (1965) and Kurt Warner (2009) have done that. Still, hunch OAK keeps it close.
BEARS (2-3) at FALCONS (2-3)
Line: ATL by 3
Cote’s pick: ATL 31-27
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox
Chicago’s pass defense is vulnerable but Atlanta’s isn’t much better. Hence, the week’s highest over/under. Make this a venue pick all the way. Matt Ryan and ATL are just a different team in the home-dome. Rhetorical question: How much would Falcs’ Devin Hester like to return one all the way in his first game against his longtime ex-team?
COWBOYS (4-1) at SEAHAWKS (3-1)
Line: SEA by 8
Cote’s pick: SEA 27-23
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida)
Seattle has won 19 of its past 20 home games, and by an average margin of 15.6 points. Richard Sherman vs. Dez Bryant is this game’s marquee matchup, but how the ‘Hawks run-D limits DeMarco Murray may steer the result even more. Murray is first RB since O.J. Simpson in 1975 to start a season with five straight 100-yard games, but doubt he reaches six. Respecting NFL’s best home-field advantage here, but also hunching ‘Boys keep it close.
REDSKINS (1-4) at CARDINALS (3-1)
Line: ARI by 3½
Cote’s pick: ARI 23-20
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox
Washington has won eight straight in series (last in 2011), but it feels like the law of averages may be about to kick in. The caveat is ‘Zona’s QB situation, with Carson Palmer likely still out and Drew Stanton perhaps out – which would leave rookie Logan Thomas to start. Give the Unmentionable Nicknames a big outright upset shot, but trust the home field. Cacti have won six of past seven in the desert.
49ERS (3-2) at RAMS (1-3)
Line: SF 3½
Cote’s pick: SF 27-17
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida)
This is the 700th Monday Night Football game. Hallmark make a card for that? (Still love ya, Howard Cosell!) San Fran has won more Monday games than any team (45), and that includes six in a row by a combined 164-49 score. Nobody seems to like Jim Harbaugh, but his Niners seem to like MNF. Frans on a 13-4-1 series run including a sweep last year, and I think Frank Gore could have a fountain-of-youth game against STL’s generous run stoppers.
OFF THIS WEEK
▪ CHIEFS (2-3; next at Chargers): After a tough 22-17 loss at San Fran it doesn’t get easier for KC. In Bolts’ Philip Rivers they’ll face hottest quarterback in NFL with four straight games over a 120 rating.
▪ SAINTS (2-3; next at Lions): They beat Tampa 37-31 but Saints’ defense still isn’t right. Over/under in Motown next week should top 50. Oh, and N’Awlins happens to be 0-3 on the road.