We bull’s-eyed our Upset of the Week with Steelers winning in Cincy last week (“Aawwk!”) and also had a pair of ’dogs-with-points in Saints and Chargers. Yet we still managed only a 9-7 mark overall and a somewhat better 8-7-1 against the spread, with Colts-Jax off the board at the time. Our imperative entering the final three weeks remains clear: Make up five games and finish over. 500 ATS. That’s all I want for Christmas, Santa, along with a bunch of other stuff, including a new pressure cleaner — minimum 3,200 PSI, por favor. (Note: Results below do not include Thursday night game. Pick was Rams (-1 ½) over Bucs 19-16).
Dolphins this Week and Dog of the Week
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DOLPHINS (5-8) at CHARGERS (3-10)
Line: SD by 2.
Cote’s pick: SD 24-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Welcome to the Disappointment Bowl as two of NFL’s biggest underperformers meet. It gives me no delight that the Dolphins game wears the Dog collar as Week 15’s worst matchup, but the dubious distinction is sadly warranted. These teams’ combined 8-18 record is worst on the schedule. More than that, this is week’s only game in which both teams are mathematically, scientifically and theologically eliminated from playoff contention. The only scintilla of drama we’ll find Sunday in San Diego is that the final road game of the year for Miami could be the last home game ever for Chargers fans, with the franchise plotting a move to new digs in Carson, Calif., south of L.A. That should add an element of emotion that could bolster the Bolts, while flying cross-country on a short week (after playing Monday night) figures as a detriment for the Fins. Yes, trends favor the visitors here. Miami has won nine of past 11 in series, including 37-0 last season, and Diego has dropped five home games in a row. Also, Chargers have been held to three points in each of their past three losses. I have a hunch, though, that Philip Rivers’ offense will find its remedy in a Dolphins defense that has allowed 36, 33 and 38 points in three of its past four road games. If this is farewell, San Diego, Chargers will go out a winner.
Game of the Week
TEXANS (6-7) at COLTS (6-7)
Cote’s pick: IND 21-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Friday Page historians are scrambling to determine if this is the first Game of the Week in the 25-year history of our NFL predictions to feature two losing-record teams. It’s an oddity, for sure, but no other game this week has such a winner-take-all feel in terms of the postseason. The winner will be alone atop the AFC South, where only the division champ will make the playoffs. QB questions had the game off the bet-board. Andrew Luck remains out for Indy, which is hopeful Matt Hasselbeck will be ready but may need to deploy Charlie Whitehurst. For Houston, T.J. Yates will start for concussed Brian Hoyer. Texans a fashionable pick here, mainly because Colts have lost past two weeks by 45-10 and 51-16. But Houston is 0-13 at Indy since 2002, and I see Colts finding that home-dome magic once more.
Upset of the Week
PANTHERS (13-0) at GIANTS (6-7)
Line: CAR by 5.
Cote’s pick: NYG 27-24.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida).
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmaawwk!” Dolfans hated the Giants on Monday night, now they’re NYG’s biggest fans as Carolina moves ever closer to equaling Miami’s 1972 Perfect Season. But that historic pursuit ends here. Panthers already have clinched first-round playoff bye and I think would just as soon not enter the postseason with added pressure of being unbeaten. Biggies, on other hand, must win to keep playoff hopes breathing. Eli Manning needs a clean game, but NYG’s defense catches a break with Carolina missing RB Jonathan Stewart and maybe TE Greg Olsen, too. Giants beat 13-0 Broncos in 1998 and beat 18-0 Patriots in 2007. They do it again. Watch Odell Beckham beat Josh Norman for a TD. Or two. “Bold prediction,” nods the U-Bird. “Odell Baawwkham!”
JETS (8-5) at COWBOYS (4-9)
Line: NYJ by 3 ½.
Cote’s pick: NYJ 23-17.
TV: 8:25 p.m. Saturday, NFL (airing in South Florida).
Jets in a precarious fight for a wild-card berth and can ill afford a loss in this Saturday-nighter, while ’Boys are still alive only by very generous math. Game features NFL’s top three TD catchers since 2012 in Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Home-’dog upset would not surprise, but NYJ’s run defense will dominate and Ryan Fitzpatrick will outpitch Matt Cassel.
BEARS (5-8) at VIKINGS (8-5)
Line: MIN by 5 ½.
Cote’s pick: MIN 23-20.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Vikes can clinch playoffs with a win and other results all falling right. Bears are not yet officially eliminated but I think would have to win out and have six other NFC franchises all disband. Adrian Peterson could run wild vs. a CHI run-D allowing 4.7 per carry, but Jay Cutler is 8-4 in series and MIN defense is injury-wracked so I like this one closer than the bet-line.
FALCONS (6-7) at JAGUARS (5-8)
Line: JAC by 3.
Cote’s pick: JAC 28-20.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Both teams have scant, negligible playoff hope. I’d rather be Jax, which seems on the upswing and has some weapons led by Blake Bortles. I’d hate to be ATL, which has collapsed monumentally after a 5-0 start and sees its locker room unraveling. Upset by Falcons would not surprise in the least — these are still the Jaguars, after all — but I’d not bet on it.
TITANS (3-10) at PATRIOTS (11-2)
Line: NE by 14.
Cote’s pick: NE 37-16.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Pats have clinched playoff spot but add first-round bye with a win and a Denver loss. I don’t know that you’d even find anybody in Nashville who thinks the Titans will win this game. Tom Brady keeps losing offensive weapons and keeps being so great it hardly matters.
BILLS (6-7) at REDSKINS (6-7)
Line: BUF by 1.
Cote’s pick: WAS 24-20.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Here’s the luck of the division draw: In the NFC East a 6-7 record has Washington with a 39 percent playoff likelihood, while in the AFC East the same record has Buffalo given a 5 percent shot. Coin-flip game, so give me the quarterback (Kirk Cousins) who is 5-1 in his past six home starts with 11 TDs and zero picks in that span. Upset, albeit a tiny one.
CHIEFS (8-5) at RAVENS (4-9)
Line: KC by 7.
Cote’s pick: KC 20-17.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
In midst of first losing season since 2008, Crows weren’t sure late in week if it’d be Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen subbing for Joe Flacco. Like it matters? Chiefs sitting solid in the playoff race but can’t abide a loss here. Bet-line feeling a tad fat, though.
BROWNS (3-10) at SEAHAWKS (8-5)
Line: SEA by 14 ½.
Cote’s pick: SEA 34-13.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
Seahawks are on verge of a playoff-clinch after 4-5 start. Big reason? Russell Wilson is redefining “hot.” He is only fourth QB ever with three-plus TDs and zero INTs in four straight games, and first since 1960 to have four straight games with a 138.5 or better passer rating. Like Patriots, ’Hawks absorb major offensive losses (Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham) and keep on rocking.
PACKERS (9-4) at RAIDERS (6-7)
Line: GB by 3.
Cote’s pick: GB 27-23.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
Pack clinches playoff ticket with a win, but here two big reasons that may not happen. First, Eddie Lacy could find tough going vs. a fairly stout Oaks’ run defense. Second, Khalil Mack (nine sacks in past three games) figures to pester Aaron Rodgers. Having said that, I still trust Rodgers (even in a so-so year, for him) more than I trust Raiders’ defense.
BRONCOS (10-3) at STEELERS (8-5)
Line: PIT by 6 ½.
Cote’s pick: PIT 24-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS.
Our Game of the Week first-runnerup matches Denver’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense vs. a Pitt offense averaging 35.2 points over past five games. The winner here gets to think it’s good enough to reach AFC title game. Broncos clinch playoffs with a win. Steelers are narrowly off postseason pace right now based on tiebreakers but would be in good shape of they won out. I’ll take Ben Roethlisberger over Brock Osweiler, please. Play it closer than the line, though.
BENGALS (10-3) at 49ERS (4-9)
Line: CIN by 4 ½.
Cote’s pick: CIN 20-13.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS.
Bengals clinch playoffs with a win but Cincy’s season swings anxiously with QB Andy Dalton out for a while with an injured thumb and A.J. McCarron making his first NFL start. Alabama quarterbacks have lost 13 consecutive NFL starts but his surrounding cast should help McCarron turn the Tide on that.
CARDINALS (11-2) at EAGLES (6-7)
Line: ARI by 3.
Cote’s pick: ARI 31-26.
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
Quality matchup for prime time, and a potential shootout. ’Zona clinches division title with a win. Philly still has a playoff shot but must win out and hope Redskins lose at least once. Eagles offense is better with Sam Bradford back but Carson Palmer’s gang is as explosive as anybody right now. They travel well, too. Cacti are 6-1 on the road.
LIONS (4-9) at SAINTS (5-8)
Line: NO by 3.
Cote’s pick: NO 41-31.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).
The Monday stage welcomes a depressing matchup of underachievers, the Lions mathematically out of playoff contention and the Saints with about a 1 percent shot. Game could be entertaining, though. Wouldn’t shock me to see Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford launch 100 passes between ’em. Give me Brees, on the Bayou, vs. a Motown squad that’s 1-5 on the road.