What a strange week, last one. Typically a strong showing overall translates to a positive week against the spread, too. Not this time. We’ll take 11-3 straight up, but even with that we managed an embarrassing 3-9-2 ATS. Wins by Saints and Ravens were the pushes at three points apiece. We nailed our Upset of the Week with Broncos over Packers (“Aawwk!”) and also had a rare exact-score pick with Vikes’ 23-20 win over Chicago. But not enough else went right against the betting line. I’ll get you this week, Vegas! Although I’m not sure what the odds on that might be. (Note: Thursday-game pick was Bengals (-11) over Browns, 31-16.)
Dolphins this week
DOLPHINS (3-4) at BILLS (3-4)
Line: BUF by 3.
Cote’s pick: BUF 24-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Huge division game because the team that crawls over its rival’s back here to reach .500 at midseason will be well in the wild-card race in a top-heavy AFC. Dolphins played a week ago Thursday so should be rested but return to action missing their most impactful defender in injured sack-man Cam Wake. The Bills are even more rested, coming off a bye, and return with Tyrod Taylor back at QB — a huge upgrade over one-man turnover factory EJ Manuel — and likely with WR Sammy Watkins back, too. Other factors might also worry a Miami fan. Buffs have won four of past five in this AFC East rivalry including a 41-14 spanking in Fins’ home opener this year, the game that probably most doomed Joe Philbin. And Bufftown has been Ryan Tannehill’s quicksand; he’s 0-3 with a miserable 59.1 passer rating in this place. Last week I said Miami had to prove it could win in New England before I’d bet ’em to. Though less so, the same is true of this game. I am not abandoning the Dan Campbell Bandwagon after one humbling loss, but make this a venue call. Give me Rex Ryan, at home, off a bye and with his QB back healthy.
Game of the week
PACKERS (6-1) at PANTHERS (7-0)
Line: GB by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: GB 27-17.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Two teams a combined 13-1 made it simple for the Game of the Week committee as members quickly adjourned garrulously to the Quill ’n Swill Pub. Carolina is only the fourth 7-0 underdog since the NFL went to 16 games in 1978, a dollop of disrespect that can only further motivate. This is a Litmus test for the Panthers, but a challenge for the Gee Bees as well, with Aaron Rodgers coming off a rare awful game in that loss at Denver. Carolina has won 11 games in a row dating to last season and is plainly due a stumble. Cam Newton has six interceptions in his past three games and is 2-11 in his career as a home underdog. Ask yourself this, and ask it the way Dirty Harry asked that punk if he was feeling lucky: As good as the Cats’ defense is, do you really think Rodgers won’t bounce back with a big game?
Upset of the week
BRONCOS (7-0) at COLTS (3-5)
Line: DEN by 5.
Cote’s pick: IND 28-24.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
“AAWWK!” screams the Upset Bird. “Andrew Laaawwwk!” Peyton Manning returning to the city he led for so long always packs emotion, especially with him just 284 yards shy of Brett Favre’s career yardage record. But Denver spent a lot of emotion at home last week upsetting Green Bay, and there’s no way facing the 3-5 Colts won’t be a letdown for Broncos. Recall Denver also was unbeaten in Manning’s first trip back to Indy as a visitor in 2013, and Andrew Luck outplayed him in a Colts’ win. I’d feel better about this pick if I was sure T.Y. Hilton (foot) would play, but Nags get a boost either way from the offensive-coordinator switch to Rob Chudzinski. Did I mention Luck is 6-1 overall and 7-0 against the spread as a home ’dog? “You know you hadn’t mentioned that; you plainly posed it as a rhetorical,” notes U-Bird. “Rhetorical questaaawwwk!”
Dog of the week
BEARS (2-5) at CHARGERS (2-6)
Line: SD by 4.
Cote’s pick: SD 27-20.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).
It’s rare the worst matchup of the week saddles up on Monday, but here we have two teams that together are 4-11 with six consecutive losses. To aggravate that, each team is now missing one of its top offensive threats to injury in Chargers WR Keenan Allen (lacerated kidney) and Bears RB Matt Forte (knee). I’ll make it a venue call. Even sans Allen, give me a hot Philip Rivers, who has rolled five consecutive 300s and faces a Pandas secondary that has allowed 16 scoring passes.
REDSKINS (3-4) at PATRIOTS (7-0)
Line: NE by 14.
Cote’s pick: NE 34-13.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Point spreads don’t get much bigger on Sundays. Washington isn’t awful and should have DeSean Jackson back for first time since season opener vs. Miami. Skins’ problems are on defense, with cornerback injuries and shaky run stoppage. This is the wrong opponent for that. Tom Brady will dissect, and NE has won 28 games in a row when topping 25 rushing attempts.
TITANS (1-6) at SAINTS (4-4)
Line: NO by 7.
Cote’s pick: NO 38-10.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Drew Brees is coming off a 52-point, 505-yard passing game in which he threw a record-tying seven TDs. Good luck outscoring that, Marcus Mariota or Zach Mettenberger. Titans fired coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was 3-20 with Nashville, and replaced him with Mike Mularkey, whose NFL head-coaching record is 16-32. Upgrade! Upgrade?
RAMS (4-3) at VIKINGS (5-2)
Line: MIN by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: MIN 20-17.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Off the Week 9 marquee, but still an interesting matchup — one of only two in which both teams have a winning record. Rams are playing their first November game with a winning record since 2006, led by super-rookie RB Todd Gurley and and NFC-leading 26 sacks. Vikings counter with Adrian Peterson and a six-game home win streak. A venue pick, anxiously, in a tossup game.
JAGUARS (2-5) at JETS (4-3)
Line: Off board.
Cote’s pick: NYJ 19-13.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Game was off bet-boards because of Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick-or-Geno Smith question at QB, though it is now known Fitzpatrick will start despite a thumb injury on his non-throwing hand. Either way I’d have liked the Planes to get their defensive mojo back against a Jax squad that has dropped 12 games in a row away from home, the worst case of roadkill in the NFL.
RAIDERS (4-3) at STEELERS (4-4)
Line: PIT by 4.
Cote’s pick: PIT 27-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Resurgent Oakland is on pace for its first playoff spot since 2002, behind ascending Derek Carr, who has 15 TD passes vs. only three picks in his past six games. At Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger back is a tough hurdle, though. And DeAngelo Williams puts Steelers in solid shape to withstand the injury absence of Le’Veon Bell. An upset would not shock, but Big Ben isn’t one to lose two in a row at home.
GIANTS (4-4) at BUCCANEERS (3-4)
Line: NYG by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: TB 27-24.
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Bucs reminded us in beating Atlanta last week that they aren’t as bad as you think, and a big part of that is rookie Jameis Winston coming around with a 110.5 passer rating his past three games. Jason Pierre-Paul is close to playing again for the Biggies after his Fourth of July hand injury, but NYG has more defensive problems than he can solve. Upset!
FALCONS (6-2) at 49ERS (2-6)
Line: ATL by 7.
Cote’s pick: ATL 20-16.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
A sign you might be a bad football team? When you bench your starting quarterback because you think the guy who’ll be an upgrade and give you a better chance to win is Blaine Gabbert, who is 5-22 as an NFL starter with 10 losses in a row. Atlanta can be its own worst enemy, though (12 turnovers in past four games), which could keep it closer than the line.
EAGLES (3-4) at COWBOYS (2-5)
Line: PHI by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: DAL 24-23.
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
Game marks DeMarco Murray’s first trip back to face his ex-Boys, and I sure get the home-’dog point spread in this Sunday nighter. I mean, Dallas has lost four in a row at home,and Philly has won four of its past five trips to Jerry’s World. And yet the Upset Bird is circling, moving in for the kill. Dez Bryant will have an impact the way he didn’t in last week’s return, and Dallas sackers will bother Sam Bradford. Upset!
Off this week
Cardinals (6-2; next at Seahawks): Chris Johnson, looking like CJ2K again, already is franchise’s first RB with four 100-yard games in a season since Stump Mitchell in 1985.
Chiefs (3-5; next at Broncos): Two wins in a row have vaulted K.C. into the postseason hunt in a wide-open AFC, where a 4-3 record is on playoff pace right now.
Lions (1-7; next at Packers): Worst record in NFL and Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau on deck. Coach Jim Caldwell is blasting Detroit media. How about you win a game, Jim!
Ravens (2-6; next vs. Jaguars): Only four teams have allowed more points than Baltimore. Somewhere, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, heads bowed, are softly weeping.
Seahawks (4-4; next vs. Cardinals): Seattle’s defense (second in yards, third in points) remains strong enough to make playoffs still likely, especially if Vikings stumble.
Texans (3-5; next at Bengals): Houston is tied with Indianapolis for best record in AFC South. If divisions could fit a bag over their head, this one would be wearing one.