We nailed our Upset of the Week with Steelers’ win at Cincy (“Aawwk!”), bull’s-eyed another upset with Seattle’s win at Philly and also had Bills-with-points at Denver – yet still managed a losing Week 14 against the spread. I don’t mind missing anomalies like Oakland over San Fran or Carolina winning at Saints; it’s the Bears, Dolphins and Chiefs who let me down. Must finish strong! By the way, finally had a push against the spread last week with Vikes winning by six. (Note: Thursday night pick was Rams (-4) over Cardinals, 19-17).
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (7-6) at PATRIOTS (10-3)
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Line: NE by 71/2.
Cote’s pick: NE 27-21.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Rebounding from the season’s biggest loss is a must if the Dolphins are to keep slim-yet-plausible playoff hopes alive, but “at New England in wintertime” presents the tallest possible hurdle to that end. Pats are 6-0 at home, 52-9 in Foxborough in December under Bill Belichick and have much to play for. A win here clinches yet another division title, and Pats still gun for a first-round bye as well. Miami will get the A-game, in other words. Tom Brady averages 303.8 passing yards at home this year, with 17 TDs vs. only two INTs. I don’t worry about the Fins’ secondary, though, as it welcomes back CB Cortland Finnegan while losing injured S Louis Delmas. I worry more about a run defense that has been pretty awful the past three games. Miami must both run better than it has lately and also stop the run to have a chance at an upset — a result that would make the playoffs hugely more likely. Dolphs beat Pats 33-20 in an exhilarating season opener. Don’t see a repeat in the chill, although I like Miami with the points. If only close counted for Joe Philbin. His job is slipping away from him. Sunday won’t help.
GAME OF THE WEEK
UPSET OF THE WEEK
COWBOYS (9-4) at EAGLES (9-4)
Line: PHI by 31/2.
Cote’s pick: DAL 31-28.
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird, affecting a Bing Crosby-like baritone for the holidays. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmaawwk!” Sunday’s prime-time stage lucks into Week 15’s marquee-topper, a duel for first place in the NFC East featuring top RBs DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy. Philly owns the tiebreaker right now, so Cowboys need this a little bit more. Birds dominated ’Boys 33-10 on Thanksgiving, but beating a quality rival twice in one year is tough. Also, Dallas is 6-0 on the road, and the away team has won six of past seven in this series. Tony Romo’s gang also is more rested, after playing last Thursday. Did I mention Romo has a 125 passer rating on the road this year? “Bingo. This pick ultimately flies on Romo outplaying Mark Sanchez,” notes U-Bird. “Maawk Sanchaawwk!”
DOG OF THE WEEK
JETS (2-11) at TITANS (2-11)
Line: NYJ by 2.
Cote’s pick: TEN 23-20.
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS.
Only eight of 32 teams have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and here are two of them. This stinker could be the Mutt of the Year, with the loser staying alive for the No.1 draft pick. If a combined 4-22 record isn’t bad enough for you, how about Jets’ 0-6 road record vs. Titans’ 1-5 home mark? Or how about Geno Smith vs. Jake Locker in an epic duel of the league’s two lowest-rated QBs? Titans’ seven-game losing streak and NYJ’s solid ground game vs. Tenners’ league-worst run-D accounts for the betting line, but I’m hunching a home-’dog upset. Watch Chris Johnson run for 100 on his ex-mates.
STEELERS (8-5) at FALCONS (5-8)
Line: PIT by 21/2.
Cote’s pick: ATL 27-24.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Huge game in the playoff race, with Pitt currently holding an AFC wild card and Atlanta holding the inside lane toward winning the World’s Worst Division in NFC. I’m feeling another home-’dog upset here. Do I trust ATL’s defense? Not a bit. But Steelers’ offense hasn’t been nearly as potent on the road, and I’m counting on an appearance by the Falcons who beat Green Bay 30-12 in the second half last week. Aside to Julio Jones: Get well fast. I need you out there Sunday.
REDSKINS (3-10) at GIANTS (4-9)
Line: NYG by 61/2.
Cote’s pick: NYG 24-20.
TV: 1 p.m., FOX.
Another stinker with two eliminated teams and two coaches, Jay Gruden and Tom Coughlin, who could be headed to the door marked Exit. Eli Manning is 7-2 at home in his career vs. ’Skins, and Biggies have won past three in series, including 45-14 on Eli’s big day in September. Meantime, it looks like Washington’s game of QB Roulette is coming up Colt McCoy. Bet-line seems a bit big.
RAIDERS (2-11) at CHIEFS (7-6)
Line: KC by 10.
Cote’s pick: KC 27-10.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Remember when Oakland won its first game of the year Nov.20 at KC’s expense and Raiders defenders over-the-top-celebrated like they’d won a Super Bowl? I’d guess Chiefs players remember. But that’s no more motivation than K-City being in that mess of AFC teams bunched at 7-6 thanks to three losses in a row and needing to win out for a playoff shot. Oaks are 0-6 on road. Bet-line seems big, but I’d bet it isn’t.
TEXANS (7-6) at COLTS (9-4)
Line: IND by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: IND 27-23.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Colts clinch division title with win, and Texans happen to be 0-12 all-time in Indianapolis. Easy call, right? Not so sure. Indy only won by 33-28 on Oct.9, Houston’s won its past two games to get up onto the periphery of the playoff hunt, and Colts have 10 turnovers in past three games even in winning each of them. Such sloppiness here won’t fly. Taking Andrew Luck at home, but the Upset Bird is hovering.
JAGUARS (2-11) at RAVENS (8-5)
Line: BAL by 131/2.
Cote’s pick: BAL 30-9.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Ravens are odd men out — currently seventh in fight for six AFC playoff spots — so must keeping winning. No such pressure burdens the woeful Jaguars. This is their 42nd consecutive game as an underdog, the longest such streak since Rams were ’dogs 43 times in a row in 2007-09. BAL’s D will be big trouble for Blake Bortles and his bad O-line. I almost always take this many points, but my gut says rout.
PACKERS (10-3) at BILLS (7-6)
Line: GB by 5.
Cote’s pick: GB 27-23.
TV: 1 p.m., FOX (airing in South Florida).
Pack can clinch playoff spot with a win plus other results, and Gee Bees are still angling for a first-round bye, too. Buffs are in that thick scrum of 7-6 teams and needing a small miracle. The Upset Bird is on the watch. Pack is 0-5 all-time in Buffalo and a mortal 3-3 on road this year. Upset lies in Bison’s league-leading sackers getting to Aaron Rodgers. I’ll trust Rodgers, but see it close.
BUCCANEERS (2-11) at PANTHERS (4-8-1)
Line: CAR by 31/2.
Cote’s pick: CAR 20-7.
TV: 1 p.m., FOX.
Here’s another dog-poo game, although this one has attention it otherwise wouldn’t because of the back-injuring auto accident that sidelined Cam Newton. Luckily, Derek Anderson is an experienced backup. Also luckily, the Bucs stink and are still trying to decide who’s the least worst between Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. Carolina preposterously remains faintly alive in playoff chase courtesy of World’s Worst Division.
BENGALS (8-4-1) at BROWNS (7-6)
Cote’s pick: CLE 23-20.
TV: 1 p.m., FOX.
Game of Week committee considered this one for Johnny Manziel’s first start alone, although playoff stakes also are way high in this pick-’em game. Cincy leads a super-competitive division and so must keep winning. Brownies are fourth in that division and must win out for any postseason shot. CLE won first meeting with big D, seeks first series sweep since 2002, and gets it. Earthtones get an offensive spark, and erratic ’Gals defense (three times allowing 500 yards) is now missing its top player in Vontaze Burfict.
BRONCOS (10-3) at CHARGERS (8-5)
Line: DEN by 4.
Cote’s pick: DEN 34-27.
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS.
Denver has won 11 division road games in a row, and a win here would tie the record set by the traveling 49ers of 1987-90. A win here also would clinch the division title and keep Broncos headed for a first-round bye. The urgency may be even greater for Chargers, who come in hanging onto the second and last wild-card spot. Bolts’ upset shot is large (DEN is only 3-3 away from Mile High), but return from injury of TE Julius Thomas should help Peyton Manning escape his recent, uncharacteristic slump.
VIKINGS (6-7) at LIONS (9-4)
Line: DET by 71/2.
Cote’s pick: DET 24-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., FOX.
Detroit hangs onto No.6 (last) NFC seed, so it needs this. Minnesota is technically still alive in the chase, but not really. Vikings are 1-14-1 in their past 16 division roadies, although Purples bring a strong enough pass defense to challenge hot Matthew Stafford and keep this close. Lions are good at home (6-1), but don’t discount the upset shot. Teddy Bridgewater is turning around some doubters.
49ERS (7-6) at SEAHAWKS (9-4)
Line: SEA by 10,
Cote’s pick: SEA 21-16.
TV: 4:25 p.m., FOX (airing in South Florida).
Seems insane to see Niners a double-digit underdog in this fiercest of rivalries, but the reason is two-fold. Playoff-headed Seattle is madly impressive right now, the defense dominating and Russell Wilson and the ground game smoothly in synch. Oppositely, two losses in a row have SF reeling off playoff pace as the Jim Harbaugh era ebbs in disappointment. Also, factor in Colin Kaepernick’s career stats vs. SEA: 1-4 record, nine picks, 50.6 rating. Oy. Seattle beat Frans 19-3 just two weeks ago, and not much has changed. On little more than a raw hunch do I see proud Niners keeping it inside the bet-line.
SAINTS (5-8) at BEARS (5-8)
Line: NO by 3.
Cote’s pick: CHI 30-27.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).
Monday night gets the Disappointment Bowl, with two of NFL’s most underperforming teams trying to save face. Bears are out of playoff hunt. Same record has Saints still alive by the dumb luck of being in the World’s Worst Division. Surprised the over/under isn’t even higher, considering Chitown gives up league-worst 29.1 points on average and N’Awlins has allowed 27-plus five games in a row. Bears missing Brandon Marshall but should get run game going against this D. Make it a venue call, though nervously. Upset!